We came to the United States as immigrants in 1976 (after which we went back to Lebanon, returned in 1981). We landed in New York where we were greeted by my aunt who ran towards me, my husband and our three kids with five little US flags shouting: Welcome! Welcome to the United States! Thus began our Immigration Process coinciding with the American Centennial Celebration as we watched the parades and participated in the joy of all those people around us. It was lovely, and a terrific moment for the country. Ever since then, I become very wistful around July Fourth and I still get very emotional and tear up when I hear: Land of the Free and Home of the Brave. There is no doubt that National Celebrations have always been unifying moments for the citizens of this young nation . . .
. . . until this year of Virus, protests, turmoil, divisiveness, polarization, pent-up anger and frustration manifested themselves and poured out from coast to coast lending a reflective and somber tone to our usually festive July Fourth and leaving me sad and disconcerted.
However, despite this ominous cloud enveloping the nation and our world, and as I was Wistfully Celebrating July Fourth with my family, I also had a chance to gather my thoughts and reflect on what we have been going through since the murder of George Floyd and all the other similar and needless deaths occurring over decades and centuries that had, as if suddenly, been brought to the nation’s attention by activists, protestors, writers, singers, actors, journalists, athletes, media hosts, documentaries, movies, books all converging to vociferously decry the injustice, inequality, disparity, exclusion, racism and dehumanization that had been happening in-front of our willful blindness as a nation. Disregarding the malicious infiltrators, tear-gas and the few who were hauled off in a police car, where else, I thought, could people in most of this world have the freedom to express their dissent in this way? Where else do ordinary citizens feel that they have a right to these in-your-face confrontations? Where else can scathing Free Speech be allowed? Where else are citizens allowed to manifest their anger, disappointment and frustration against their President, Politicians, Police, Atrocious Colonist History and the whole System without being hauled off to jail, tortured, maybe disappeared, and often killed? Where else, except in a few other nations on our Planet, can Democracy – even in its very imperfect form – be exercised so freely? Yes, despite the fact that this nation is undergoing stress levels such as it has rarely witnessed, and despite the fact that our Democracy has shown fissures and inadequacies that are sorely in need of being addressed, we should all feel very proud that against all the odds, this Democracy still works and that’s why, much as we all need to work on improving it, we should also do our best to preserve it, especially Millennials and Generations X and Z who think that the world started with them and, therefore, take a lot of its history for granted.
Change happens slowly, yet certainly, in our modern days, it is happening much faster than it did for our grandparents. During these few months of The Virus, together with Black Lives Matter and all the issues we have been compelled to face and address as a nation and as a world, some positive changes that bode well for our future have emerged. They are encouraging. Nevertheless, the hard and ongoing worldwide work is only starting, and there’s a long struggle still ahead of us, more so in our country, because President Trump and his supporters are doing their best to chip away at all our hard-earned Civil, Human and Legal Rights bit by bit, by tragic bit in order to satisfy a Fascist Ideology, and, he will try any and all nefarious measures to get reelected and push this sick ideology forward. Hoping Not!
One of the most striking changes for me during these past two weeks was the apology rendered by Philippe, the King of Belgium, on the 60th. Anniversary of Congo’s Independence regarding the atrocities that Colonial Belgium had executed in that country as well as its role in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba (a subject that I addressed in 2015: The Heroes). Consequently, and due to the work of activists and protestors statues of Leopold have been removed, or toppled; streets, public squares and other landmarks have been renamed. The same happened in England and is continuing to happen in Europe and in many places across the world. France which had forcibly conscripted 400 thousand soldiers from Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Senegal – better them to die than nice white French kids! – to be on the front lines of its Liberation War is now renaming streets and plazas after those conscripted heroes. Colonialism always enslaved and used the Colonized whether it was the British in India, the Spanish and Portuguese in Latin America etc. etc. However, it has now become part of the Reckoning that is long overdue in our very broken world!
It is also long overdue right here in our United States where, sadly, our scholastic curricula omit so much “Context,” not only on this subject, but on so many others. It seems that none of our children and grandchildren have studied the atrocities that have been (still are, in my humble opinion) committed by Colonialism and that have brought us up to this historic moment. To the contrary! Their history lessons were all about how wonderful, courageous and heroic were the White People who conquered the Savage, Barbaric World and brought Christianity and Civilization to the Brown, Black and all those other Inferior People!
Since our US Protests began Colonist Statues have been removed and toppled across the country; streets, schools, buildings and food products (such as Uncle Ben’s Rice, Aunt Jemima’s Syrup) are being renamed; Mississippi, the last holdout on allowing the Confederate Flag is banning it; Our Military Brass have decided that Forts and Bases will be removing their Confederate designations, as well as banning the presence of the Confederate Flag on their premises much to the chagrin of our ignorant President; NASCAR will be doing the same, and to prove the point, their Race Drivers took an unprecedented knee in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and their one Black Racer; Princeton School of Public Policy removed racist Woodrow Wilson’s name from one of its buildings; Police Departments across the nation are banning chokeholds and reforming their procedures – with a long way to go yet; Facebook, Twitter and other Tech Companies after getting a drubbing for not removing hate/racist speech from their platforms are being abandoned by their advertisers; The Redskins and the Cleveland Indians sports teams are changing their racist names after corporations stopped selling their products and paraphernalia; the Dakota Access Pipeline, about which Native Sioux Tribes have been for long contesting over the harm it does to their lands and to the environment was shutdown by a judge. Moreover, John Roberts and his Supreme Court drew a line in the sand that indirectly ruled that the President is neither above the law, nor an authoritarian strongman! Bam! The Court also ruled that almost half of Oklahoma was Sovereign (not completely) Native American Land. All in all, just a few of some of the remarkable changes over the past two weeks. Other changes may be cosmetic, yet in just a few short months we seem to have proven that our American Democracy – incomplete and in grave danger as it may be – still works!
After the struggle ahead bears its fruits, I am hopeful that my children and grandchildren will celebrate many joyful July Fourths and unifying American holidays in the future, and will yet inherit the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave!