Today means small things in practice, and great ideas in theory. Great ideas that a large number of us do not fully understand. We pursue without really grasping the ideal of happiness. But we are happy enough.
I used to spend a great deal of time puzzling over what America is, how it operates, what it means. But it was only when I started to read more philosophy and history that I came to a reasonable conclusion. That conclusion is that we are a people more wed to our history than we know, and that history is of a more elevated character than we say. So we complain. We are people who have time to complain, meaning we are not defeated and we expect better for ourselves.
This morning I picked out a paragraph from The Root, a publication of constant complaint. In The Root's consistency, they have re-published an article from one year ago today saying that it is just as relevant:
What, to a black American in the age of Barack Obama, is the Fourth of July? I answer: the day that reveals to him, more than any other, how much America owes to blacks and their struggle for freedom. If it hadn't been for people like Frederick Douglass, this would not be a country worth living in. The lofty ideals of the Founding Fathers would have been no more than stirring but empty rhetoric.
What I understand about this is the rigor with which my generation of black Americans view the world through the lens of inherited Struggle. We have aggregated every pain and triumph into an existential philosophy of lure and loathing. America. What does it mean for *us*? That is the question we love to endlessly turn in our heads. To settle for an answer that does not result in some strain of complaint is to admit a false comfort. We have in America, a permanent home as symbols of man's inhumanity to man, and it is such a powerful symbol that it is unlikely to ever be eclipsed. Except of course that our Spartacus has become Ceasar.
We might have spent an eternity, were it not for Obama, speaking of Martin Luther King, Louis Armstrong, and Sojourner Truth. We might have spent 10 political seasons, were it not for Obama, speaking of Michael Steele, Colin Powell and Ward Connerly. All these proxies of fate, will in time, fade from significance, because of what America actually is, and who we actually are in it. Americans are only believers in the creed of liberty. That is all we ever were and it is all we ever will be. We are devotees, no matter where our location, to a set of clear ideas that we uphold like a flag in the wind only pointed with fleeting accuracy at its North Star. Whenever we tire, someone else picks it up, and the march continues.
It has been a long time since I've listened to Premature Autopsies. But I never forget its observation that nobility can come from anywhere.
Some people might ask, "What is this man doing talking about nobility? Doesn’t he know that this is a dragon-spawned and blood-encrusted century? Doesn’t he know that the dragon breath of our time is breathing down the neck of the year 2000? Doesn’t he know that this is the era of flash and cash?" I will say to them that the interwoven labyrinths of greed and manipulation are as old as the FIRST lie, When you lie you are trying to manipulate; and when you try to manipulate for false profit, you reveal your greed; and when you swallow that dragon dust cooperatively you reveal yourself as a chump, a sucker, one of those folks Barnum said was born every minute. But I will answer them also by saying that nobility is always born somewhere out there in the world, and when you live in a democratic nation you have to face the mysterious fact that nobility has no permanent address, you hove to face the fact that nobody has nobility’s private phone number. Nobility is not listed in the phone book. Nobility is not listed in the society column, nobility shows up where it feels like showing up, and where it feels like showing up might be just about anywhere. If it could rise like a mighty light from among the human livestock of the plantation, you know it can come from anywhere it wants to. You see, nobility is listed though. Yes, it is listed. Nobility lists itself in the human spirit, and its purpose is to enlist the ears of the listeners in the bittersweet song of spiritual concerns.
That doesn't sound like a complaint when you read it, but when you hear it played to the accompanyment of the New Orleans dirge in the cadence and accents of the black minister then you know - it is the bittersweet song of spiritual concerns.
I am constantly reminded of the irony of those backhanded compliments such as the Root constantly replays when speaking of the Founders. You don't often hear many such complaining African Americans speak of their duties to lead with love the ever benighted white boys. The word 'us' is not often enough broadly employed. What does today mean to all of us? That is the question that should be turning constantly in our heads. If we were to forget all of the foolish self-serving rhetoric of identity, then we might recognize how many of the world's people believe in the creed of liberty.
I have brought my family to reside at the coast of the Pacific. When I was climbing my mountain, my throat was dry. When I reached the peak and saw the promised land, the waters of justice were still frozen in the snow. I recognized them for what they were and did not resent their color. Soon I saw the trickle, the stream, the mighty river, and I joined with all to find the mighty sea. I remember when I was parched and climbing, but I was destined as are all men, to rest here. We are not truly Americans until we believe in liberty and justice for all.