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America’s Real Founding Moment: Why We Get Independence Day All Wrong

James Cartmill holds an American flag while protesting in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, after the announcement that a grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old. Several thousand protesters marched through Oakland with some shutting down freeways, looting, burning garbage and smashing windows. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
James Cartmill holds an American flag while protesting in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, after the announcement that a grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Elias Isquith, SALON

 
(Salon.com) — It’s been a little more than two weeks since nine human beings, all African-American, were murdered in a Charleston, South Carolina, church by a young white supremacist. In some ways, the public reaction has been predictable; all have expressed outrage, disgust, sadness, following a post-massacre routine that has become depressingly familiar. In at least one way, however, the response from America’s mostly-white mainstream has been something it usually isn’t, especially isn’t when it comes to race: genuinely introspective.

The most obvious manifestation of this collective soul-searching is the sudden toxicity of the Confederate battle flag, and the calls for its removal from government property. The demand has come not only from liberal activists and people of color but, more surprisingly, from Southern Republican politicians and multinational corporations, too. For the first time in many years, perhaps ever, it seems like many white Americans are willing to reassess not only the Confederate battle flag, but the influence white supremacy still holds over their society.

That this process has unfolded in the run-up to the Fourth of July strikes me as especially appropriate. No other holiday is endowed with the same kind of Americanness (though there’s a strong case to be made that Super Bowl Sunday, an unofficial holiday, comes close). No other holiday so clearly elevates secular values, such as liberty and self-government, to almost metaphysical heights. If there’s one day of the year when Americans collectively remind themselves of who they are and what they profess to believe, Independence Day is it.

 

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