America, in Nineteen Minutes
by: Terrence A. Merkerson
In the midst of a very tense time, both socially and politically, Americans took a break to celebrate the birth of this great nation. This past Saturday, The United States of America celebrated its independence. The Fourth of July is the day that Americans celebrate liberty, patriotism, and freedom (along with gluttony and alcoholism). Sometimes, I find it very difficult to indulge completely, knowing that everything that this day represents and celebrates was not originally intended to be extended to me. Yet, after a conversation or two with my good pals, Jack Daniels & Johnnie Walker, I find myself more and more willing to ignore history and enjoy a few hours of oblivion. After regaining a portion of consciousness, I began trying to sort through my thoughts and feelings, as I prepared to shape a critique of the contradiction that is the concept of “freedom” in America. Then something happened. Something amazing happened and I almost missed it.
Saturday night, I found myself lying on my back, looking to the sky in child-like astonishment. Fireworks. Nothing seems to bring our nation together more than gathering to watch explosives light up the summer night sky. There is something about the whole “rockets red glare/bombs bursting in air” thing that swells our chests with pride and brings smiles to our faces. Just when you think its all a big lie, smothered in nationalism and propaganda, you find yourself inspired and in awe. As the fireworks illuminated the sky, I took a moment to look around and what I saw was more beautiful and inspiring than anything that was going on above our heads. I looked to my right, a poor white family, wreaking of the odor of cheap whisky and cigarette smoke, was sitting there, huddled around each other, looking to the sky, smiling. To my left, a multiracial, multi-sexual family sat in their lawn chairs as their kids sat on blankets, all looking to the sky, smiling. In front of me, there was a racially diverse group of teenagers, taking selfies, drinking beers, also looking toward the sky, smiling. Around me there was a Native American family, an Asian family, White people, Black people, young, old and everywhere in-between, all gathered together in this open field, looking toward the sky, in awe. Those nineteen minutes made me completely reconsider my stance on the holiday, altogether.
As we walked back to our cars, I thought to myself, what was it about those fireworks that had hundreds of people in gleeful admiration for nineteen minutes. We all see them every year and every year, there is really nothing new, so what was it? Then it hit me. It is not about the fireworks. It is not about the food, the liquor or even the extra day off. It is not about history. It is not about our differences. It is not about the past or the present. Independence Day is about the future. It is about the promise of the future.
Freedom, in its most perfect form, is an ideal. We have never and will never experience true freedom, regardless of race, class, nationality, sex, or gender. It is the hope that lives in progression and the optimism of tomorrow that inspires us to believe in the ideal of freedom. The Fourth of July is the celebration of opportunity, in hopes that opportunity is real and attainable for anyone. That hope has to be refreshed to remind us that there is a better life that awaits us all, if we are willing to do what it proper and necessary to attain it. It is the feeling that makes us believe in the spirit of liberation. America is a living contradiction, yet somehow we still manage to find her beautiful and we regularly find ourselves enamored in her promise. American is neither fair nor equal, but we have to believe in her potential. Her potential is why we continue to fight for equality. Her potential is why we advocate not only tolerance, but for acceptance. Her potential is why we protest for parity.
I am not the most patriotic person, but I do believe in the power of nationalism. It is one of the few things that unite us instead of divide us. For two hundred and thirty-nine years, we have been a continuous work-in-progress, with far more failures that successes. But nevertheless, we are still here. We still fight and we still believe. I will choose to celebrate freedom under the pretense of purest intention. With all the challenges that we face as a society every single day, for those nineteen minutes on a humid Saturday night in July, America was everything we want her to be.
Terrence Merkerson is the Founder & Creator of Avenue Fifteen. Terrence earned Bachelor’s Degrees in both Political Science and Gender/Race Studies from the University of Alabama. Terrence also completed Graduate School at the University of Alabama earning a Master’s Degree in Communication Studies.
He currently resides in Baton Rouge, LA.