• Chris Banks

On Our Birthday

America’s birthday I’m feeling deeper than usual this year. It’s hard not to. Chaos in the streets. Chaos in the halls of power. Chaos in the court room. In people’s minds. Depending on the source, chaos on each of our screens. We all feel a collective descent, a feeling, something we are all unfamiliar with. This feeling makes us all uneasy, scared. Maybe with have a heightened sense of things. Maybe we’re paranoid. Anticipating the next news bomb to drop.

America’s birthday this year comes at a critical cross roads for her birth her health, and her longevity. As Chaplin beautifully put it, “greed has poisoned mans soul, has barricaded the world with hate..” and so to has this greed poisoned our souls as Americans, so to has hate barricaded us within our own borders. A true irony for electing a President who promised to keep foreigners out is that we are now trapped inside of our own borders. Because we are deemed too sick by the rest of the world to travel there. I find this to be a fitting classification for Americans right now. We are too sick.

And this sickness isn’t new, it was present at our beginning. The trade of slavery dominated the world. Not just here. There was no choice to not participate in it. It was how goods were produced. All over the world. It doesn’t make anything ok, and it doesn’t make what they did any better. But there is no appetite to just accept this as a fact. Understandably so. But once we do, the burden of our loves becomes even more omnipresent. We must do both at the same time. Admonish the past while accepting its facets and pushing forward. This allows for actual accountability, rather than unmitigated reflection which leads to an unwillingness to engage in the now. It prevents us from accurately loving in the present, if there is any love to even be found. Usually there is. We’re just too closed off to it, because we’ve been pushed to be this way. We all push ourselves to be these cookie cutter fragments, pushing ever forward to nothing but an eventual fortune. But why do we all have to be millionaires? Why can’t we all just focus on being happy? Whatever that means to you.

My grandfather landed in NYC and worked for 6 YEARS before being able to send for who would eventually become his wife. The American dream has always been hard. Much harder if you aren’t an Irish lad coming here in the 1900s. Today I’m witnessing the dream, because so much is harder now because of so many varying components and shifting trend lines that just weren’t present in my grandfathers day, and because of all of those factors the dream is being degraded by all sides. There is no faith anymore. Only time for dollars. This is where we are going wrong as Americans. I think. When I first read stories last year about the African-Americans choosing to go move back to motherland instead of staying in the US-I was terrified and sad. Depressed even. I never thought I’d see anything like that in my entire life. Now I’m not criticizing an individuals choice to live in a place-that’s any persons prerogative. I’m talking about Americans simply giving up on being American. I never thought I’d see it.

Then I asked myself, if the Fourth of July for me was really a family history lesson about the pain and discrimination my grandfather faced that eventually got his life taken from him-I would have a different relationship to America too. If I felt like nothing I ever did was good enough-I would have a different relationship to America too. If when I demand justice and equal treatment I get chained then get the dogs sicked on me then I’m held down then I’m chased by the cops then I’m denied by the bank then I can’t even protest any of it because I am treated like my rights are less American -I would have a different relationship to America too. I mean my white protestor brothers and sisters mispercieving public health for a threat to their rights werent gassed and sent to the hospitsl so why are my brothers and sisters being treated like that?

Today, on America’s birthday- I hope we all reflect on this. Regardless of what we look like, where we came from or how much our families have.

This is a time for deep reflection as Americans. All Americans. Do we want to call our country home to the worst outbreak of this virus? Do we want to see an ever intensifying and ever expanding war on people’s who just don’t look like us? Do we want to keep telling ourselves the lie that as white Americans, we based on the lack of pigmentations in our skin-are somehow MORE American than the people whites are subjugating to an inferior existence? That just based on our hands being on the lever of power in the

axis-ees of the nation since it’s inception dictates for the rest of time that the very same hands remain on those very (not same) evolving levers?

It doesn’t make any sense. We all know it doesn’t make sense. Only those who subscribe to an old world code of being adhere to this way of thinking. Those individuals will always be among us. Know this at the fore before you allow it to prevent you from being happy. You’ll be happy if you do your job as a citizen. It’s up to us to ensure those individuals, that small group, remain on the fringes. We never again want to give them the opportunity, created by our lack of engagement, to grab onto those levers of power. Those individuals that want to look down on others and take us back into the dark ages. Those individuals who just want to watch the world burn - they are The People as well. Their just not the majority of them. And by a collective lack of participation and engagement by us, the masses, The People-they were allowed to destroy our nation. The majority must now flex its muscle. The majority want the lack of access to opportunity and excess judgement to end. The majority want access to quality affordable healthcare. The majority want their kids to be able to go to school without fear of violence, or death. The majority want to be able to live each day without turning on the tv or opening the paper watching their government become corrupt, seeing their countries laws weakened by the very people they elect to put in power. The majority want to see the constitution of the United States upheld, and defended by the domestic threat within. The majority want sensible common sense gun laws, not the Wild West. The majority want to see police act like police, not like their paramilitary. The majority, regardless of what they look like, want to be able to live with dignity live in security and live without dependency on anyone or anything. WE, the people, must finally work to allow that reality to take shape. Stop fighting over the same things that have held us back from healing and growing as a people.

And I mean, actual work. Not social media or internet anything. Remember, turning a woman’s life into a meme does nothing to solve the larger systemic problems of race, police abusing their power, etc. Memes exemplify larger trends but they also act as stand ins for cultural anxieties. They are ways to express and alleviate fear through humor.

But when we turn a cultural moment, like the murder or Breonna Taylor for example into being commodified or trivialized it can be used as fodder for performative allyship.

Turning a woman’s life into a meme, even if the intent is grounded in a good intent, does nothing to solve the larger systemic problems of race and police abusing their job functions. It does nothing to meaningfully sustain an awareness level that does not permit such atrocities to ever even be thought about being being perpetrated, never mind actually carried out and covered up by the very people who we pay to protect and help us.

We’ve seen examples of this already with Riverdale actor Lili Reinhart.

What does it mean for white people or any other ethnicity of people to start engaging on such a meaningful conversation in such a surface and thoughtless way? It entirely degraded the meaning of the entire movement. And that’s what I see people being too quick to lean into, forgetting of course their civic duty.

Trumps America is a time for all of us to be reminded of what happens to our country if we do not participate in the process. It is destroyed.

So I hope we take this day and remain quiet, mostly listening. Because only through listening can we learn.

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