The Moral Crisis of the Fourth of July (A White Reflection and Call to Action)

I recently heard Jennifer Harvey speak about her book “Dear White Christians: For Those Still Longing for Racial Reconciliation”. Harvey held my rapt attention, had my pen glued to paper fervently trying to record every one of her awesome, prophetic words. She said many things that really stuck to my ribs in their truth and potency, but the thing that will particularly stay with me is, “To be white is to exist in a state of profound moral crisis.”Declaration-of-Independence_merciless-Indian-Savages-506x600

I feel this especially on days like today: the fourth of July. I write this from my in-laws’ cabin in Wisconsin, where family has gathered over the weekend to enjoy the lake, share meals and play games. I see this with renewed enthusiasm through the eyes of my cousins who are seven and five. For them, the phrase “we’re at the cabin” is meant to invoke a feeling of Sabbath—here, we don’t have to take off our shoes as we run outside to inside, we can jump on the beds in the basement, and there is a spaciousness of imagination that I can only attempt to recover as an adult. I enjoy the time as well: two days ago, I saw a family of turkeys and four baby raccoons as I was walking down the winding lakeside roads. I’m also having cheeseballs for breakfast.

How do I reconcile this seemingly joyous time with the bloody history of our country—the reason we all have the days off? There is so much privilege inherent to our time together. Additionally, I struggle with how to name systemic racism, the fact that our country was built on the cultural genocide (and plain genocide) of Native American and African people and how that (so starkly seen in recent events) continues to live out and how our time at the cabin is not separate, not a vacation from that reality.

My partner and I frequently remind each other that change happens from talking about race in our own familial circles. If everyone was to do that….you know the argument. For me, you add a fun little thing like “Midwest nice” and being a 9 on the Enneagram (I have trained myself to believe that no, I am not going to actually die if there is conflict.), and not only is talking about it not an easy thing to do, but I always question if I am actually being an agent of change, if anyone is listening to me, if we are really doing anything differently, or if I am always just the stick-in-the-mud, bringing everyone down. It is a complex web of oppressions, especially coming from a lower-middle-class, rural background. I see the need to affirm soldiers and families, but can’t we support individuals while critiquing the system that got everyone into this mess?  (Also, how strange is it that we claim to celebrate the folks involved in military service by shooting fireworks which are often horribly triggering to folks who have served?)

Like many of us, I find myself posting articles on social media that express what I am trying to in a more coherent way. (I also don’t let myself off the hook thinking that posting, liking and sharing is enough.) This morning, I was looking for something about the 4th, and discovered Mark Charles’s The Dilemma of the Fourth of July.  Charles names the systemic racism in the founding documents and calls every American to read or re-read the Doctrine of Discovery.  He further calls those of us in the Church to know the Church’s historical role as well.  Charles says that we cannot hope to have cross-race community until we have weaved a national story that includes all memories, all sides.  I invite you to read his article, and support Charles’s work here.

You can still light your fireworks and eat your BBQ, but please remember God’s incredible mercy upon our lost, violent, and unjust nation. And at the end of the day, I humbly ask you to conclude your celebrations with the following prayer:

“May God have mercy on the United States of America and give us the courage necessary to create a common memory.

In the spirit of knowing our own histories and working towards racial reparations, I would additionally point folks towards Confessing Our Vicious History: White Catholics and Violence Against Black Churches.  In responding to Black Churches Burning in the country we celebrate this fourth of July, educating ourselves on the history of the Catholic Church in America is a great place to start.  I’d like to thank Call to Action’s own Katie Grimes for this excellent resource.  I will be posting additional information about actions we can all take together in response to violence against Black Churches.

Wherever we find ourselves this Fourth of July, I hope we remember that our stories are not separate from one another’s, that we are finding ways within our individual and collective callings in our individual and collective contexts to heal the wounds of our nation’s history.  Today, I will be present to my young cousins and build the foundations to teach them about what it means to not shut out and muffle white moral crisis but let it move us towards active presence in these struggles.  With the elders and other adults in my life I will compassionately share how my heart is crying out for justice today.  I will continue to pray for courage as I move my feet to where they need to be.  And, I will continue to be grateful for all of you as we walk these roads together.

Sarah Holst is the editor of Call to Action Young Adult Catholic Blog.

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