True democracy is loving your country enough to criticize it
CHICAGO -- The orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass once noted the disconnect between the words of our nation's founding fathers and their deed of allowing, perpetuating and profiting from slavery in America.
"What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us?" Douglass said at an Independence Day celebration in 1852.
He came to the conclusion that "I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me."
Douglass was not criticizing his homeland because he disdained it. He, in fact, believed in the promise of true democracy -- one that made good on the declaration that "all men are created equal."
His lament seemed topical as news reports spread last week that an 11-year-old boy in Florida was arrested after arguing with a substitute teacher who was incensed that the student declined to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.
The teacher allegedly told the sixth-grader, who is African-American, "Well, you can always go back, because I came here from Cuba, and the day I feel I'm not welcome here anymore, I would find another place to live."
Let that sink in for a moment.
An adult -- presumably vetted by the school and required by the Florida Department of Education to be certified to substitute teach -- told an 11-year-old child that, basically, he should go "back" to ... where, exactly? ... if he didn't like the way America was treating him.
Our children live in a country in which African-Americans die at the hands of police at the rate of 7.2 per million (whites' rate, by comparison, was 2.9 per million) according to an analysis of data from 2015 and 2016.
An America in which the median earnings gap between white men and black men is as large as it was in 1950 -- over a decade before the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.