On July 4th, we are fond of celebrating independence, freedom, liberty. This quality is the logical end-point of the United States’ national mythology — the story of the brilliant architects of our national revolution and Constitution, the story of the brave pioneers who set out on their own to subdue the wilderness, the story of captains of industry who conquered the marketplace to make their fortunes, the story of the Greatest Generation who liberated the concentration camps from evil Nazis. And there is nothing wrong with independence in and of itself. Each of us is a separate being who chooses an individual path in life.
However, the United States’ story celebrates independence without acknowledging its balancing quality — that of interdependence. Each human is a separate being, but we live in community. We have evolved from animals that live in bands, in groups that support one another. And in spite of our national story, we have lived, worked, and thrived together throughout our national history and continue to do so today. The originators of our system of government, the pioneers, the industrialists, the soldiers of World War II, each of them achieved what they did because they worked together in groups.
One of the groups that each of them belonged to was the community of white people, which is an unacknowledged part of our national story… that the success of these white groups was borne on the backs of Black people who had been enslaved, Indigenous people who had been exterminated so their land could be taken, and Latinx, Asian, and other immigrant people whose labor was exploited. We white people have gained as a group at the expense of those groups we othered. In reality, we white people opt into and out of communities as it suits our needs. We identify with whiteness when it gains us an advantage, but opt out of caring for our community members — white, Black, Latinx, and every other race — when we believe that we gain by going it alone.
So in fact, we have always been interdependent…our national lie is that our success belongs to us individually. We gain our success based on interdependence, then act like we created it ourselves. We benefit from group membership, then turn around and deny that membership. What we need in this moment is to admit to and own our interdependence. We white people especially need to admit that we are part of a web of relationships. This is not a matter for shame — this is a matter of human nature. We should celebrate our connectedness, not disavow it.
This July 4th, we do not need Independence Day. We need Interdependence Day. We need a national reckoning with the fact that we depend on one another, and that all of us depend on the Earth and the communities of animals and plants who share that Earth with us. We need to disavow the individualist invention that we have done it alone, or that we could possibly do it alone. Especially in this time of COVID-19, we must recognize that each of us is linked to the others, both through the transmission and prevention of this disease. We succeed, we fail, we live, we die together. Let’s acknowledge it. Let’s understand it. Let’s celebrate it.
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