The Declaration of Interdependence
The first fireworks I recall seeing: Camp Y-Noah, when I was about 7 or 8. Before, I had seen some from a distance — little sprays of colored lights in the sky followed by a distant boom. Even those distant booms terrified my dog Mel, a wonderful, loving, honey-colored Cocker Spaniel.
Being right next to the action at Y-Noah was an entirely different experience. The sound thumped by chest! The spreading streamers of bright explosives filled the sky! The sparkling threads were red, white, and blue as well as gold, silver, green, and purple — all the colors of the rainbow and more besides!
I watched with one of the kids from my cabin. I cannot recall his name but I do recall that he had a blond crew cut and was a bit on the chubby side. At Camp Y-Noah, we slept in log cabins on bunk beds, about 10 kids to a cabin. Our days included swimming, archery, shooting 22 rifles, hiking, and various contests, including “morning inspection” pitting one cabin against another, or volleyball (pitting one cabin against another) or softball (pitting one cabin against another). We generally hung out with the other kids in our own cabin; they were on our “team” and the ones we spent most of our time with.
For that reason, I was surprised when a kid we didn’t know came to watch the fireworks with us. This kid, whose name I also don’t recall, was an African-American with short curly hair. After silently watching for a couple minutes, began commenting on every firework. But instead of saying “Oh, WOW!” as we were, he likened each firework to what he was going to do to one of the kids in his cabin. It seemed odd that he would dislike one of the boys from his own cabin and especially that he would passionately dislike him.
He soon solved that mystery for us. His cabin mate kept calling him the N-word. I grew up in a very segregated white neighborhood and school. Nonetheless, I knew from an early age that this was not a word to be used. I associated using the word with “bad people” and found the idea that one of the kids at Camp Y-Noah would use it rather amazing and a bit upsetting. I also found it amazing that this kid from another cabin would be so upset.
Of course, kids being kids, I had lots of experience with kids calling each other names. While I didn’t typically start such insults, I would respond in kind and sometimes “pile on” when someone had a nasty nick-name applied to them. In the first grade though, these nasty nick-names never perseverated. And none of the names we came up with were associated with racism, hatred, and lynching.
The first time I recall an unlucky recipient keeping a nasty nick-name for more than a few days took place about four years later. We were studying American myths and legends at the time and one of these legendary figures was “Pecos Bill” who supposedly tried to jump over the Grand Canyon, got half-way over, realized it was too far and turned around in mid-jump and came back. (Don’t try this at home). For some reason, all the other boys in the class, and quite a few of the girls, dubbed “Bill” “Puke-us Bill.” He hated it and told us of his hatred of the name. That made it all the more fun for us as fifth graders.
Although cruel, the name was unique. It had nothing to do with Bill’s race, religion, or country of origin. Though he hated it, and we teased him with it for the rest of the year, he still hadn’t reacted as passionately as the kid from camp had done to being called the N-word.
And with good reason. Bill’s ancestors had not been enslaved whole-sale and stolen from their native land and torn apart from their families. The women had not been systematically raped. Men who tried to escape had not been castrated or had their foot chopped off. They had not endured centuries of oppression. Even after slavery was abolished, citizens of America descended from those slaves were tied up and tortured, lynched, and to this day are more likely to be shot dead for no better reason than complying with a police request by pulling out their wallets to show their ID’s or by not pulling out their wallets to show their ID’s. White people, in the year 2019, are calling 911 to report black people doing such dastardly deeds as having a picnic, or playing in their own yards.
Fireworks are explosives. They may look very pretty. But every year, thousands of Americans end up in the ER from fireworks. Fireworks are violent explosions. They need to be treated with great care. It’s very common for a fuse to be shorter than it seems. And explosions don’t always go as planned.
And racist slurs? To people who are in a minority, a racial slur is nothing like a “nick name.” I really didn’t understand that when I was a seven year old camper. But I do now. What I also understand is that playing to racism or religious differences have led to millions of innocent people killed. And, the distance between freely using racial slurs and millions of innocent people killed is not as long as you might think it is.
Today is a day for all Americans to celebrate our independence from tyranny. We should celebrate. The American colonists were taxed by the British government but had no vote and no representative in Parliament. The rationale for our declaring our independence was based on many grievances, and eventually some of those influenced the Bill of Rights. But having a vote is absolutely fundamental to having a democracy. If it isn’t a democracy for all of us, it isn’t a democracy.
When it comes to measures to disenfranchise citizens, those are a blow to democracy itself. That should concern everyone, not just those who are not disenfranchised. And, so should applying racial slurs and killing innocent people. And, so should intentionally inflicted cruelty of any kind. We breathe the same air. We are all inter-connected. The Declaration of Independence speaks to independence from tyranny, but when it comes to defending those freedoms, we are all in it together. E pluribus unum.
Ever stop to think about how much even commonplace things that you take for granted depend upon the efforts and knowledge of others across the globe — and millions of other people who lived in ages past? https://petersironwood.com/2019/05/06/corn-on-the-cob/
Still confused about how much you’ll be able to “recreate” modern conveniences based on your own hard work and knowledge? Maybe this video will help. https://www.ted.com/talks/thomas_thwaites_how_i_built_a_toaster_from_scratch?language=en
My title is hardly original, and here is a link to some of the earlier uses of the title.
Here’s another take on the fact that people around the world have developed slightly different skin colors and somewhat different cultures. https://petersironwood.com/2018/08/03/the-myths-of-the-veritas-the-forgotten-field/