Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Anything wrong with 4th of July parades?

 “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.”

No matter how hot: The local parade is a must
Writing anything critical about  the much loved 4th of July is paramount to touching the third rail of the subway: Instant electrocution.  Too much Americans love this holiday that unites the country around history, celebration and the annually repeated experience. Some have attended the parades for decades, assembling their extended family on the same spot on the parade route year after year. There is a strong sense of local community when one sees local politicians, local businesses, churches, non profits and the volunteer fire department march in the parade. It also builds community to see friends and neighbors, all in festive mood and enveloped by the sound of the marching bands. Old village centers come to life. What could there possibly be not to like?
cars, cars, cars

The risk of critical observation is heightened when it comes from someone who is foreign born, no matter how naturalized, especially when descending from a country where nationalistic parades are have become impossible for the simple reason, that the country's history is so terribly marred. In fact, much of the US pride on display on the 4th comes from having defeated the evil of that nation. But the observer's disadvantage may also heighten the sensibilities when it comes to display of national pride in general.

As Senator Bill Ferguson wrote in his letter to constituents on occasion of the holiday this year:
While America formally declared her independence from a tyrannical monarch 241 years ago, it’s easy to forget that that freedom wasn’t for everyone in the beginning.
It would be another eighty-seven years before black enslaved persons would be granted some form of agency in America - another seven years passed before black Americans could even attempt to vote, and another fifty years before women were granted this right.
The United States of America is not without its flaws. We still see systemic oppression, even right here in the place where the National Anthem was written, it takes a degree of willful ignorance to overlook the injustices we see daily (some of which are encouraged in the stanzas of that famous poem). Even today, 241 years later, women, people of color, and LGBTQ folks struggle with challenges that many of us have the luxury of ignoring.
Military might as an expression of independence

Today, it is important we remember that America is a country made up of people from all walks of life. Americans wear many hats. And while we may toil through a difficult, polarizing time in our political history, it is paramount that we recognize the value of one another, and make an effort to improve the common ground beneath our feet.
An observation of one of the suburban parades in Catonsville made it pretty obvious that the ideal of the America on display was still pretty white, pretty male and pretty macho. Even though Baltimore County has nearly 30% African American population overall with majority black populations right north of Catonsville it was initially difficult to spot even individual African Americans in the parade or among the spectators. For a while Delegate Sydnor's pick-up truck with a small group sitting on the truck-bed was the only group integrating the parade until eventually a smattering of blacks appeared mostly in marching bands. Old white males on motorcycles, on old army trucks, in honor guards, in vintage sportscars, in Jeeps and on firetrucks dominated by far. Showing muscle is a genuine part of those parades, from the display of huge tow trucks, military equipment, fire equipment to all-wheelers, a reminder of how long women had to wait before "all men are created equal" was taken less literal.
White, male and macho

A visitor from Mars or, less far, a refugee from Somalia or Yemen, could think that the parade is about the combustion engine and cars and trucks in general. The wheeled portion of the parade far outnumbers those on foot. Entire marching bands are wheeled on flatbed trailers. Vintage cars without catalytic converters and lawn-mover type all-terrain carts with stinking two-stroke engines foul up the air right into the faces of the very old and the very young sitting on lawn chairs along the parade route. Muscle cars burn rubber and fire engines blare their sirens until the babies scream and one wonders if these sounds and smells should really represent our civilization.

Yes, there were tiny signs of diversity such as a Asian group promoting truth, tolerance and peace, there were marching bands consisting to a large part of women and there was even a woman steering a vintage army truck. And, maybe more a throwback to other times, there was also "Miss Virginia" with a crown, a beauty queen who looked like she had just hopped a 1950s poster.

Ms Virginia: Back to the fifties

The nostalgia for the 50's was everywhere, the "good old times" which were mostly good for those who dominated this parade, whites and males, the very ones who have once more captured the strings of power.

Overt politics are kept away from the Independence Day parades by the Grand Marshalls who screen who will participate. Rightly so, with all the rancor and strive already, who would want more of it in a holiday parade?

But there is no way of denying that the politics of small town Main Street are a not so subtle veiled reminder, that this world has been embraced as the way it has to be for too long already.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?  I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy" Frederick Douglass in Rochester, New York, in an Independence Day address to the Ladies of the Rochester Anti-Slavery Sewing Society. The New Yorker.July 2017.

Huffington Post: Independence Day
Young and female: Marching band

Integrating the parade: Delegate Sydnor's truck

Black and female: Thrusting wooden guns

Right-wing backlash against a critical review of the Independence Holiday:

Fourth Becomes Triggering Event for U.S. Leftists

Liberal columnists, activists, and others on social media claim America's birthday steeped in racism

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