For years, on July 4th I turned to Frederick Douglass’ great speech (“What to The Slave is the 4th of July“) as a reminder of the promise and the painful hypocrisy of the Declaration of Independence. If you look look back on this blog’s July 4th posts, you’ll find excerpts and reflections.
This year, I was moved by an op-ed in the Washington Post by Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation. He underscores the resonance of the principles enshrined in the Declaration with the Foundation’s work on equity and inclusion.
Inclusion is patriotism of the highest order. It informs our answers to that fundamental, founding question of representation and whether we, the people, will truly extend representation to each other — then, now and into the future.
And so, the American story we should celebrate this Fourth of July is one of expanding representation — however slowly, unevenly, and imperfectly. It’s the story of a small circle of White, property-owning men in Philadelphia that, generation by generation, continues to grow wider, precisely because of the patriotic struggle and sacrifice of the people who were once excluded — above all, Black and brown people, and women.
Political theorist (and now candidate for Governor of Massachusetts!) Danielle Allen has recently written about Prince Hall, an 18th century black activist whose political work was energized by the values he saw in the American founding. Hall, she writes, “invokes the core concepts of social-contract theory, which grounded the American Revolution, to argue for an extension of the claim to equal rights to those who were enslaved. He acknowledged and adopted the intellectual framework of the new political arrangements, but also pointedly called out the original sin of enslavement itself.” Hall helped establish an activist community of free blacks in Boston and established a Masonic Lodge that bears his name. A founding father, too long neglected.
However one marks the 4th, I trust we can find some inspiration in Hall’s life and work, and in these words of Darren Walker:
In their flawed genius, the founders entrusted us with the tools to fix what they were unwilling to repair. They left us the capacity to build something that had never existed: a multiracial, multiethnic, pluralist democracy that extends the blessings of representation to all.
This is a legacy worth fighting for, preserving and passing forward — today and always.
1 thought on “July 4th: “Inclusion is Patriotism of the Highest Order””
I too have made an annual respite to this rock of Douglass, long before any resonance was to be expected by my compatriots. In 1996 I performed a music/literary residency at the Carver Center of San Antonio, entitled Frederick Douglass Chronicles, which included delivering his 4th Of July Speech pounding a podium that drew fake blood running down Old Glory. Quite dramatic. However, this year peels off a layer of the American story that makes me reflect even more upon the relevance of Douglass’ life, work, and what is revealed in the clamor against it. In this advanced internet world, I feel I’ve lived in a rerun of backlash, manufactured exclusion, contagious smallness of character, police killings, white angry mobs, just like in 1851.
When it comes to patriotism none of these misgivings kept my father from serving to liberate many who trampled his likeness. Though his brand of fearlessness is more than patriotic, it is knowing whom humanity owes service to. It does not ask to be included by the unseeing, It builds with more hands, by extending a hand.
Of this Philadelphia experiment, I commend the effort yet hesitate to celebrate intent. It appears though that we will be enjoying many new young writers shedding light upon history and sequential demands for social justice. Unless it is just a trend.
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