Photo: You can’t really think about Independence without thinking about Boston in some type of fashion. There is a lot that I don’t like about this place, this place has a very pretty skyline. Especially from the Harbor. If you ever get the chance to visit this place, take the time to take any number of the harbor cruises. I’ve had the pleasure of being out on the harbor 3 times since we’ve moved here and I’ve never been disappointed.
A Texas-based chicken company has been pushing a commercial campaign here in Massachusetts for the last few weeks, and it has made me think about “America” for the last few weeks. The commercial, with a country-style melody and a man with a bit of a twang crooning about the “American values” he believes in, gives a very glossy and idealized look at a very specific “America”. That rosy looking America that seems to come out every single American Summer: Little blondes in white eyelet dresses, little boys in little league uniforms, fields with tall grasses and long picnic tables covered with red gingham tablecloths… It’s a wholesome view of an America that exists somewhere or maybe at sometime. I visited the company’s site because I just had to know if they had a faith-based angle, which they didn’t say specifically (because whoever does their PR is really good at coded language) but the message was still clear: “We’re a large, growing chicken company with small town values. Small town views. And a belief in America and an American work ethic that comes from our small town roots.”
And it’s that “small town” emphasis that really got my brain going. As I’ve written for my post for Black Millennial Musings, when we choose to use “small town values” and flash a glossy view of a small portion of our large American tapestry, we’re categorically denying the existence of the many types “small towns” that exist across the country and the many people who live in them. As a matter of fact, it erases the experience of many “small towns” that exist within very large communities.
When I think of “America,” I often think of sidewalks lined with row-homes. They all have flower-boxes in the windows, pretty lace curtains behind the blinds. I see children playing jump-rope in front of porches where adults are sitting, laughing, fanning themselves, prepping string beans for waiting pot liquor. I hear the melodious sound of good gossip being exchanged between neighbors, the grunts and sighs, the “Oh Lord!” and “you knew that was gonna happen” as the news is told. I hear potato salad being stirred together in a bowl, the smack of lips as the cook tastes and assesses flavor, the squint of the eye as she then shakes just that much more paprika over the bounty. When I think of America, I see barrettes dangling at the end of cornrows, newly lined up hair lines being assessed before the first check on the basketball court. I see men, wrinkled of face and gray of beard hunched over a chessboard for the daily game between good friends.
I see America in full color. I see America, in small town glory, within the square blocks of big cities. America exists in the cornfields of the hinterlands and in the heart of the metropolis. The values of faith, love, service, dedication, patriotism, duty, and all of the stuff that some want to only assign to the small towns of rural areas are just as alive and well in the city. I learned my American values there. I see those American values there.
I’m an American who can traverse the America I know and the America that is shown to me. I can sit at the picnic table in the middle of the field and speak softly and conservatively about what makes this country great. I can sit at the chess board in the park, share a story and speak about what our community needs to grow stronger and give more. I can sit on the manicured lawn in between and laugh about what makes us amazing and also foolish. I am privileged to be able to visit all three at yet belong to neither of them. It makes me sad, however, that only one gets the air time. Only one place is romanticized and marketed, only one is put on an idealized pillar. I know that there are people who wish they could live that life… they think that American life would be so “simple” if we “could only go back to the way things were.”
But to think that way, to want that, to market that as perfection, categorically denies so much about what makes us an exceptional nation. First, it denies that our values are indeed universal, and what makes us a great nation has more to do with the power of our individual strengths and our collective interpretation of our national values. Indeed, it denies that the values that make us American aren’t exclusively American values, but the way we interpret and apply those values to the benefit of all is quintessentially American in nature. Second, it denies the America is beautiful because “America” takes on many forms and can be anything anywhere. To idealize “America” in only rural, conservative and (yeah, I’m saying it) segregated form minimizes us to nothing because it denies that we are a multifaceted nation that requires different types of life and living to be progressive and strong. Third, it denies that we are a country of thinkers and workers, never perfect but also never stagnant. We are a people who get it wrong just as much as we get it right. But for every person who wants to sit on his laurels and decide that we’ve reached our societal pinnacle, there are twenty more who see what needs to be fixed and push us ever forward.
The America I know is far better, far larger, far more beautiful than the America that marketers want to make me see. The America that I love is just as worthy of my critique as it is of my admiration. I cannot deny that we are a nation that has deep problems, some of them conceivably insurmountable… but I also cannot deny that there is no other place in the entire world where I’d rather be.
This July 4th is a Friday, and if you are an American, I wish you a most wonderful Independence Day. For those dear readers in the Commonwealth countries…uh…well…um…. Happy…uh…Friday? 🙂
For all of you, I wish you a lovely summer weekend. I wish you strong sun on your shoulders, the smell of searing meat in your nostrils. I wish you beer frosty cold, or well chosen wine chilled on ice, maybe a good margarita made just a little extra strong. I wish you pie and cake with festive colors, put on a well appointed table with a prideful look. I wish you can exchange of glances with a good friend or relative as you decide what you are going to eat first. I wish you water balloons thrown or water guns squirted, someone jumping into a pool fully clothed, or maybe a walk on the beach with your sandals in your hands. I wish you a kiss on the cheek, a whispered confession as the sun goes down, “there is no place I’d rather be than right here with you.”
I wish you the gratifying knowledge of knowing that, where ever you may be reading this (America or not), you are a person who (likely) lives free. I then wish you the chilling thought of knowing that you have neighbors in this global community who are not so lucky. Keep them in your hearts this weekend, and say a prayer for those who may so yearn to live as we do, they find their way to a free life through peaceful means.
Until Monday, take care.