The seeds of liberty were cloaked in hypocrisy from the very moment colonizing slaveholders drafted and signed our Declaration of Independence two hundred and forty-four years ago today. No wonder the promises of freedom have been so elusive. But there is a new day dawning in America.
The concept behind the founding of a nation based on liberty, justice, and equality is a very powerful one. But so far, we are only a brilliant and noble concept. We have never measured up to its calling. In fact, our spectacular failing has shown what a messy business freedom is; but our enduring hope is to live up to its promise.
We live in country that prides itself on being the land of the free; but none of us are. We are born from generations of striving towards an ideal that has not yet been fully realized. For any of us.
People of color have never been free in this country. Slavery was given new forms in Jim Crow laws, mass incarceration, police brutality, and white supremacy culture. Tribal genocide of indigenous peoples at the hands of our colonizing relatives stains the history of this stolen land that we now call the United States of America.
And while white-bodied people are both the conscious and unconscious perpetrators of this cunning system of white supremacy, we are more captive to its suffering than we realize. Whiteness binds us to perfectionism, defensiveness, power hoarding, individualism, and emotional fragility — just to name a few of the insidious ways that we, too, are reduced by the racism that flows within us.
This Fourth of July, I am a patriot who is putting aside the flag waving celebrations of an illusion of who we wish we were, to say more clearly who we actually are, and to reinvest my spirit into the potential of what we might yet still become as a nation.
As a little girl, I was perhaps the most patriotic of the bunch. I woke up each morning, reciting the American Creed before a large American flag that hung on my bedroom wall. (Nerd alert! I presume that most readers need to Google what that even is. Yep, I still know every word). I would practice my speechmaking craft during Independence Day celebrations in my hometown of Blue Mound, Illinois (population 1,100) where I was known locally as the kid who studied and taught about the U.S. Constitution, knew everything about the U.S. Presidents, and was destined one day to be elected to public office.
So it was no surprise that I took off for Washington, DC., built a successful career as a policy analyst in Congress, and then parlayed that expertise as a legislator myself, elected to serve for eight years in the Maryland General Assembly.
All of this time, I was a flag waver. Very proud of the country that inspired me to serve. Holding tightly to the notion that we are the protectors and defenders of freedom at home and across the world. We are a shining light for all to emulate.
After leaving public office in 2014 and embarking on a deeply internal spiritual reckoning, the veils of illusion slowly started to part, allowing me to see more clearly. One of the insights I found shook me to the core. Having been born and acculturated within a secret and unspoken society of white privilege and unearned benefits, all of us white-bodied people are perpetuating racism until we step into becoming active anti-racists.
I am not speaking of advocating good policy and legislation to benefit people of color. That was not new to me. As a matter of fact, I thought my legislative accomplishments on behalf of BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color) communities proved I was not a racist. No, what I speak of are the uncomfortable truths of whiteness: that we refuse to see and understand ourselves and our silent complicity in maintaining the status quo. This system of white supremacy thrives on its invisibility. When we see it, is when we can change it. This is the path to freedom.
I have compassion and unconditional love for the child and young woman I used to be; for her naïve desire to strongly believe in the goodness of her nation and its people. Because the truth is, we ARE capable of everything she dreamed of and more. We can summon all of it through our great spirits. What else, but a belief in the greatness of what this nation could become, would inspire countless enslaved peoples to fight for her?
My better understanding now is that the country I love so dearly is the nation of our collective aspirations. I want us to be everything this land whispered we could become into the ears of all the ancestors – the duplicitous ones that “founded” our country on the pretenses of liberty they failed to uphold; the enslaved ones that sang, fought, and endured for the freedom they knew would come to generations yet to be born; to the First Nations who speak her language of reciprocal rights and responsibilities to the planet’s ecosystems and the web of life.
This is the whisper of a freedom that is still promised to us. But only if we awaken to its full calling.
For this dream of a newly enlightened nation – one that embodies the best of all who have walked before us; one that seeks reconciliation and offers reparations for our past harms – I celebrate our independence and our fierce love of the idea of freedom. It can be ours. But only if it is for all of us. Freedom is not a partial proposition.
I cherish this vision of a more perfect Union – one whose precious idea of who we are matches the actions of how we show up in the world. May our imprisoned minds find their way to the mercy of our gracious and loving hearts.
This is the liberation I seek and radical love will lead me there.
Written by Heather R. Mizeur, CEO + Founder, Soul Force Politics, a non-profit organization that envisions how the world would be different by putting radical love into action.