"I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn." ~ Frederick Douglass: “WHAT, TO THE SLAVE, IS THE FOURTH OF JULY”
In this post, we will discuss a new framework for judging an entity's effectiveness using the US as an example of words versus actions and why not all of us experience the country the same way.
A Tale of 2 Independence Days
In many other countries around the world, independence celebrations are truly shared events that remind the populace of the solidarity and struggle to attain liberty and freedom. This, unfortunately, is not the case for African Americans in the USA. When the Revolutionary War for independence from Great Britain was being fought, most if not all blacks in this country were enslaved. Fun fact: Britain actually abolished slavery in 1772 and the fear of this ruling being enforced on the American colonies became a rallying cry to the predominantly southern slave-owners who feared that this decision would cause the emancipation of their slaves.
Meanwhile, the existence of Juneteenth was largely a national secret until Joe Biden made it a federal holiday in 2020. If there is a day of independence for those of African descent in this country, June 19th, 1865 is certainly it. Because of this recognition, we are seeing an important shift in how African Americans celebrate American independence versus other ethnic groups. Still, this evolution is indicative that what an entity espouses and how that is translated into action for the people on the front lines determines the relationship with this entity.
I have coined this framework as the 4 P's - Principles, Priorities, Processes, and Practices - as relevant on a national level as they are within any organization of any size. Principles are what we say we stand for, why we exist, and our core values. Priorities are what we choose to focus on within a given period of time (administration, year, month, week). Processes are how we translate our principles and priorities into actions. On a governmental level we call these laws. Practices are how people on the front line experience the three previous P's of principles, priorities, and processes.
Returning to our discussion of American Independence and the documentation of this occasion - the Declaration of Independence - let's use this framework to understand why not every ethnic group will and should experience this day through the same lens.
Core American Principles
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness." ~ The Declaration of Independence
The first line of this important document states that all people are created equal - making fairness a central tenet of our independent nation. If this is a fundamental requirement of our independence, anything that works against equality should be considered as an enemy of the state, correct? Anyone living here reading this should expect equal treatment defined as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as rights, not merely privileges. So why do we see such backlash to efforts to enhance equality in this nation?
The next line to highlight is that those who govern do so with the consent of the governed - all of us, not some of us. The three branches of government represent all peoples of this nation, not two parties or specific interests or groups. Therefore, what the people desire should be prioritized in terms of the greatest good.
Finally, the founding fathers mention the need to alter and abolish aspects of government that don't serve the will of the people. This line has been twisted, interpreted, and leveraged during the January 6th attempted coup as justification for their actions - even though the government, regardless of which party is in charge, has instituted policies that disproportionately impact those with privilege. Recently, the Supreme Court abolished the legality of Affirmative Action in higher education which has significantly increased opportunity for women and minorities in this country. Should we consider abolishing or reformatting the Supreme Court due to this?
At our best, our core values have produced the Emancipation Proclamation, the US Immigration boom of the early 1900's, and increasing equality for women and minorities post Women's Suffrage, the Civil Rights Movement, and Affirmative Action. At our worst, we have experienced Civil War; Jim Crow; McCarthyism; Japanese internment camps; the invention of nuclear warfare; assassinations of JFK, MLK, RFK, and Malcom X; the Vietnam, Gulf, and Iraq wars; and the rise of MAGA. The dividing line is quite clear - when equality is enhanced, we are aligned to our principles, and when it erodes, we are going against them.
Top US Priorities
Because of the way US elections function under a two-party system as well as the governmental apparatus influencing our direction as a nation, priorities are constantly shifting. Still, one straightforward way to understand what a nation is prioritizing is to identify areas where we are consistently allocating funds and resources. As linked back to our core principles, national priorities should manifest greater shared opportunities for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Over the past 50 years or so, America has prioritized the growth of business, the military industrial complex, national security, and healthcare. The impact of this prioritization has been a huge disconnect between the have's and have nots; constant war mongering; the invasion of citizen privacy; and a failure to ensure the most vulnerable populations have access to medical services. When we have prioritized areas that enhance equality such as social security, the introduction of civil rights, affirmative action, women's reproductive rights, marriage equality, disability equality, and environmental regeneration; our nation's productivity and strength redouble in response.
When priorities are fundamentally out of alignment with principles, an entity will begin to drift away from what makes it special and valuable, and become less about key stakeholders at the expense of the beliefs and values of the few.
The Processes of the Law
Our nation's principles and priorities are codified into laws at the federal, state, and local level. In keeping with the core principle of equality - laws that enhance equality such as marriage rights, in turn enhance how people experience the culture of the nation. Laws, such as three strikes that disproportionately target minority groups already under significant stress, meanwhile lead to the reinvention of slavery in the guise of corporate controlled prisons.
Federal U.S. laws that enhance or protect equality are numerous, and they touch on various aspects of American life, including education, employment, housing, and voting rights. The following are some key examples:
Civil Rights Act of 1964: This landmark legislation made discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin illegal in many contexts. It ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination, is still a critical tool for protecting equality.
Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972: This law prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or other education program that receives federal money. This is a crucial protection for gender equality in education.
Fair Housing Act (Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968): This prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability.
Voting Rights Act of 1965: This law aimed to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote under the 15th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA): The ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public.
Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA): This law protects certain applicants and employees 40 years of age and older from discrimination on the basis of age in hiring, promotion, discharge, compensation, or terms, conditions or privileges of employment.
Equal Pay Act of 1963: This law mandates that men and women who perform jobs that require substantially equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and that are performed under similar working conditions within the same establishment, be provided equal pay.
Civil Rights Act of 1991: This law, among other things, provides monetary damages in cases of intentional employment discrimination.
Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010: Section 1557 of this act prohibits discrimination on the ground of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability in certain health programs or activities.
These are just a few examples of federal laws in the U.S. that enhance or protect equality. It's important to remember that these laws alone cannot ensure equality; they must be enforced and respected in all sectors of society.
Here are a few areas of U.S. federal policy that some argue may be eroding equality:
Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College and SFAI v. University of North Carolina, 2023: A conservative Supreme Court majority rejected 40 years of a twice reaffirmed precedent as well as the likely intent of the framers of the 14th Amendment and of the Congress that enacted the Civil Rights Act.
Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, 2022: States can now set their own policies protecting or banning abortion without any federal standard protecting access to abortion. This has created a new focus on medication abortion as an option for expanding access to people facing barriers to abortion care.
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 2010: While not a law per se, this Supreme Court ruling permitted corporations and unions to spend unlimited money in support of political candidates, leading to concerns about the influence of money in politics and the potential erosion of political equality.
Shelby County v. Holder, 2013: This Supreme Court decision struck down Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which had required certain states with a history of racial discrimination in voting to obtain federal preclearance before changing their election laws. Some argue that this decision has eroded voting rights equality.
The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) of 1996 and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) of 1996: Critics argue these laws can disproportionately affect immigrants and racial minorities, potentially undermining equality under the law.
The USA PATRIOT Act of 2001: Critics argue this act erodes civil liberties and disproportionately targets minority groups, which could be seen as undermining equality.
Certain drug policy laws: Critics argue that laws related to the "War on Drugs," such as mandatory minimum sentencing laws, have resulted in mass incarceration that disproportionately impacts racial minorities and low-income individuals.
Tax policy: Some people argue that certain aspects of U.S. tax policy, such as provisions that disproportionately benefit the wealthy, contribute to wealth inequality.
It is crucial that we judge laws primarily on the basis of whether they are enhancing the declared rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness or whether they are inhibiting these pursuits for some or all Americans.
The Practical Experiences of Citizens
Savvy lawmakers in this country understand how to translate the American experience into momentum that can sway an electorate. When on the campaign trail, they seek to connect their messaging with a given group of people to demonstrate alignment with them as a potential champion of their needs and desires. Polling is utilized as a strategic tool to harness sentiment into votes. Still, not every group experiences American culture the same which can lead to flip-flopping, inconsistencies, and pandering from politicians.
African Americans have not experienced the same US culture as other ethnic groups. Due to fighting for a semblance of equality in rhetoric, treatment, and fact since Emancipation and Juneteenth, many of us have a more skeptical perspective on the words and deeds of our government. Getting our collective issues noticed often feels like spitting in the wind, until an election season where our votes are fundamental to seizing or sustaining political power.
Poor White Americans also are being progressively left behind by current national priorities which has led to a disillusionment with government and hopes to turn back the clock to more prosperous days for their communities and families. They are experiencing a version of America - high unemployment, drug infested communities, and lower access to education - that minorities understand quite well. They now look at African Americans and other ethnic groups as progressing farther faster, or as in the case of Mexican immigrants, active threats to their continued livelihood. Harnessing the collective despondence and anger of this group for political gain has become a lucrative strategy for the far right.
This widening divide between marginalized people is a clever tactic being leveraged to ensure that we don't share notes and realize that we are collectively being pitted against each other by the rising hegemony of American oligarchs, not engaged in true social conflict, with the goal of continued disenfranchisement as a tool of control.
Before the term "the one percent" became a popular slogan for protests, American founding father John Adams was already expressing concern about the influence of a group he referred to as "the few". This group included the rich, the wellborn, and the beautiful. Luke Mayville delves into this topic in his book "John Adams and the Fear of American Oligarchy", where he provides an in-depth analysis of Adams's concerns about the potential effects of inequality on democracy and its ability to empower a select elite. Through a close examination of Adams's political writings, Mayville brings attention to Adams's apprehensions regarding the risks of an oligarchy in America and his unique perception of the political influence of wealth. This largely overlooked theory has significant implications for present-day discussions about inequality and its impact on politics.
When our collective national experience becomes one of division and acrimony versus unity and opportunity, all of us must examine how we arrived at this juncture and take agency together to see the forest for the trees and leverage our voices to return the nation to its core principles or lose our democracy for good.
This 4th of July should be less about why African Americans are increasingly disenchanted with this celebration and more about how all Americans can fight for true independence from a ruling class whose only concern is their continued prosperity at the expense of peace, fairness, harmony, liberty, and happiness. This dangerous group has interpreted life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness through the filter of greed, ego, hatred, and ultimately evil. The 4 P's framework can be successfully applied to ensure that what we say we are for is what the majority of us experience, regardless of race, economic status, political affiliation, religion, or social status.
Cheers to true Independence!
Get My New Book!!
It's no secret that the world is continuously changing. In fact, change is a constant that we can rely on. However, some changes can be perceived as more threatening than others, leading to a phenomenon psychologists call "metathesiophobia" - the fear of change.
While we typically talk about metathesiophobia in the context of personal and professional changes, it can also apply to societal shifts. For some time now, I've noticed a rising trend among some segments of white Americans who are expressing fear and anxiety over changing demographics, shifting politics, and evolving societal beliefs.
It's crucial to acknowledge that fear is a natural human reaction, especially when the change seems to be challenging the status quo. A surge in diversity can appear to threaten established norms and traditions. A shift in political dynamics can seem to shake the foundations of what some believe America stands for. The evolution of societal beliefs can unsettle our sense of "normal."
But fear is only one response to change. Let's remind ourselves that change is not inherently good or bad - it's simply different. And with different, comes growth, learning, and progression.
The increasing diversity in America is a testament to the rich tapestry of cultures, traditions, and histories that coalesce to form this great nation. This change doesn't diminish the significance of white Americans; rather, it expands our collective narrative, encompassing a broader range of experiences and perspectives.
Political shifts reflect our democracy's dynamic nature, inviting more voices to be heard, more ideas to be discussed, and more solutions to be devised. In such a climate, our collective political wisdom can only grow richer.
Evolving societal beliefs are indicative of a society that's learning, growing, and striving to be more inclusive and fair. Each new insight, understanding, or belief is a step towards becoming a more just society.
So, if you find yourself feeling metathesiophobia, remember - change is not the enemy. Instead, view it as an invitation to learn, to empathize, and to adapt. Our fears can indeed be turned into catalysts for growth if we allow ourselves to embrace the change.
Let's take this opportunity to weave a narrative that encompasses us all, to foster a democratic spirit that encourages active participation, and to build a society that is continually learning, evolving, and moving forward.