Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

American history: beyond a selective remembrance

By john a. powell

Yesterday on the Fourth of July, many celebrated U.S. history, or at least part of it, while others were thinking about the many parts we are inclined to ignore. We are a country deeply divided in the way we look at our history. There are some Americans who think “real” Americans are, and always have been, white, or at least represent some version of white values, whatever those may be. Maybe those are associated with guns, maybe it’s the exclusion. Maybe they are the values who speak to those still looking for a wall.

There are others who took time yesterday to reflect on the long march, temporarily stalled, that this country continues to take towards a more perfect union. Those folks are likely to tell a different history of the United States. While Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence were celebrated, these folks are likely to think of the women enslaved by Jefferson who bore six of his children. They are more likely to think about how this land was ripped from the people who were already here, who still suffer at the hands of greed and indifference. Think of Standing Rock. Do we really need another pipeline? These folks are the ones likely to remember our American internment camps built to imprison our fellow Americans of Japanese descent.

There are some who may say this is just a rehashing of old history, a history that is now behind us. But one only has to look at today’s hate-fueled online media, our legal system, and our prisons to understand the very current effects our history continues to have on women, people of color, the environment, and even whites who need the health care provided by the Affordable Care Act.

Despite the select narratives told by some, this country belongs to all of us. The Fourth of July reminds us that our history is full of terrible and wonderful things. But still it is our history. If our future is to be better, we must approach our history with clear eyes, and not just pick and choose the parts we like. The Fourth of July is a time to be reminded that this is our country with all of it greatness and its imperfections, just like this is our shared planet. Neither belongs to just one group or just one religion.

While claims of a shared past may be ignored, there is no denying that we are bound together by a shared future. I hope we work together to make it a future worth living in, a future where the humanity of all people is recognized and respected, a future where we are more animated by love than fear.

America, let’s do better.