Friday, July 4, 2014

Independence day...

is celebrated here on the 4th of July. Like most who were born in the U.S., I've been drenched and soaked in the hoopla and celebrations and fireworks associated with the holiday.

The other day, in a fit of something, I re-watched one of my all-time favorite movies called The Contender. For me, this movie does a superlative job of highlighting and addressing some of the oppressions associated with sexism. I then rewatched another movie (Gentleman's Agreement) which is concerned with racism...another issue of freedom...which gets conflated with independence. Somehow we sort of roll freedom and independence all up into one big ball and celebrate both on this holiday.

Last week I was standing in line at a local grocery and in front of me was an African-American woman and her young daughter. I found myself wanting to approach her and apologize to both of them for any and all crap that they had and would experience because of sexism and racism from their fellow citizens. It was a pretty strong urge, but I talked myself out of it by telling myself that some old white man coming up to them and saying something like that would probably scare them more than anything. So I didn't say anything. But I strongly wanted to, and the thoughts and feelings which urged me still haunt me.

The more I think about and read about speciesism, the more I find myself also thinking about sexism, racism and all isms that have to do with oppression...an ism implies some sort of system and I find it more than ironic that we, as a nation and culture, fail so often at living up to all the high-flown rhetoric we spout about ourselves regarding freedom and equality and all that liberty stuff. We struggle terribly to implement and uphold such very simple notions and more often than not...we simply fail at doing so...but instead of saying this...we talk and write and think as if we have.

For example, our continental neighbors Mexico and Canada both abolished the legal slavery of humans some 30 years before it ended in the U.S. And both did it without having a bloodbath of epic proportions or even a small bloodbath. We call our bloodbath the Civil War and few of us now apprehend how epic the death toll was. This source estimates anywhere from 600,000 to 750,000 deaths. Around 2 to 2.5 percent of the total population of the country died as a result of a violent argument over whether it should be legal to enslave a human. This...in a country that annually goes into an orgy of celebration of "freedom" and independence around the 4th of July. "Freedom for all" is an aspiration, not a truth or a reality.

Even after all those deaths, the south (and some other areas) substituted segregation laws and poll taxes for slavery...trying to avoid freedom for former slaves. Most Americans don't realize that the U.S. was becoming seriously embarrassed on the world scene because of our oppressive and backward racial policies. WWII brought many face to face with one outcome that can accompany racism...the holocaust of the Nazi era. Immediately after WWII the cold war started and Russia didn't hesitate to point out the hypocrisy of the U.S. styling itself as the "leader of the free world" even as many of our citizens weren't "free" in any meaningful sense because of racism.

It is no accident that the civil rights movement began gaining strength and started expanding during the 1950s and the 1960s. This was the height of the cold war and there was serious pressure from other countries on our administrations to do something about racism. We looked stupid bellowing about freedom and liberty considering how we treated some of our citizens based on "race". Many of us believed our own lies to ourselves...but we were getting our noses rubbed in the hypocrisy by the communist countries.

I recently watched an excellent documentary named Traces of the Trade. It concerns a number of members of a well respected, upper class family from Bristol, Rhode Island. Ironically the documentary includes some home movie clips of one of the family members as a very small child waving an American flag during the Bristol Fourth of July parade...which is apparently the oldest Independence day celebration extant. I say ironically because her prominent family amassed a humongous fortune by trading slaves. In fact, one of her ancestors, at the time of his death in 1837 was reputed to reputed to be the 2nd richest man in the U.S. He was sort of the Bill Gates of his time and also was a respected and powerful U.S. Senator and his wealth and concomitant power was built on the slave trade.

The documentary concerns some of the family members getting together and tracing the route taken by the slave trading ships that belonged to the family and their trying to come to grips with the stunning knowledge that their family prominence and respect was gained via the oppression and enslavement of human beings. It is a very well done documentary...and yet...in 3 or 4 brief (very brief) scenes we see enslaved beings who don't happen to be human. There is no mention made of this in the film but my eye caught them and my comprehension resonated with the bizarreness of what I was seeing. A film about coming to understand the hollowness of prestige and wealth acquired because of evil...and yet the presence of evil practices are shown in the film and are not commented on and are accepted so fully they aren't even recognized as evil.

I think many committed to animal liberation and animal rights don't realize how much of a boost it was to the movement against racism here that there were countries who were our military and cultural rivals that were capitalizing via propaganda on our hypocrisy of saying we were "free" when the truth was dramatically different. Wouldn't it be cool if there were a human run country we could point to and say...see...everyone, including animals not human, are safe and free there. Not only would it be cool...it would serve as a serious pressure point and as a tremendous beacon of hope.


The graphic above is from some children's animal liberation literature dated 1913. Someone was imagining a place of genuine freedom over 100 years ago. Some country will have to be the first to become vegan in practice and in law. Predicated on our past (and our present) I have doubts it will be the U.S. We seem to be the world leader in talking up 'freedom' but we seem to mistake the word for the deed.

I won't be celebrating anything on this 4th of July. Because I know that independence has little or nothing to do with freedom and all the hoopla and such is in honor of something not real. I really don't see much sense in honoring fake stuff. I'll go empty and clean some poop boxes for some of victims (Heartland Rabbit Rescue) of oppression and try to give them some comfort and maybe some pleasure. They won't be celebrating hypocrisy...they're too smart to be fooled by false words and empty slogans and meaningless gestures.

Honoring and practicing and supporting freedom means living vegan...anything else is a shortcoming, a failure. I would urge you to take this holiday and think about what actually is versus what we say is. Watch these three film/video examples of rhetoric or false belief versus reality then think about the oppression and absence of freedom for beings of all sorts and sizes. We are all animals and "freedom" remains, for most, an aspiration...not a reality. Go look, with honesty, in the mirror and see if you can spot an oppressor of others, a racist, a sexist, a speciesist. If you can't, thank you, if you can...you have some work to do before you do any celebrating.

6 comments:

D.E.M. said...

Wonderful post and fantastic pic of the animal protest!
I hate the big national celebrations too. It's all bacon and beer up here. Ugh

Bea Elliott said...

I am a Gregory Peck fan... It's been decades since I've seen Gentlemen's Agreement. It's time again.

Your post reminds me of a photo I once saw... It must have been over a hundred years old at least. It showed a very poor cropper's family posed in front of a dilapidated wooden house. There must have been at least 20 people standing in the main frame. Even the children looked old and tired... In the back of this group about 10 feet behind, was one child. An under nourished, shoeless black girl. I don't think she was much older than 9 or 10. One could summarize all sorts of reasons why she wasn't with her own family. And you could only imagine what thoughts were in her head about the white family she lived (worked) with...

Then behind her --- About another 7 foot back was a donkey. An old, worn, close to lame nonhuman that followed the hierarchy of "progress" and "freedom".

I don't celebrate anything on the 4th either.

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting DEM. Ugh is right. :-)

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Bea. What a haunting and poignant photo that must have been.

Bea (the bunny) says hi and wishes you the best. :-)

Have Gone Vegan said...

While I like to think of myself as a good person, I know for sure that I have entertained racist, classist, speciesist and likely even sexist thoughts, but comfort myself that at least I'm (usually) aware of it. We have a long long way to go...

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting HGV. A long long way to go is exactly correct.