Letter to the Editor: Freedom shouldn’t come with an asterisk

Flags

I tried really hard not to write this. I really did.

But after observing the Supreme Court decisions over the past few days, and recognizing the myriad of responses and opinions that would be derived from them, I felt it was important to have my say.  

I’m 53, an African American, graduated from the former St. Willibrord Catholic High School (yes, it’s a real saint — look it up) and college educated. On my 17th birthday, the December after graduation in 1987, I raised my right hand and swore an oath to defend this nation against all enemies, foreign and domestic, in the U.S. Air Force.  

I preface my remarks by sharing these personal things to outline that what I’m about to speak upon comes from a place of presence, not speculation.  

As our nation prepares to celebrate its most popular holiday, Independence Day, I’m concerned about the premise upon which it was founded — being free. We often hear about what freedom means to different people. We learn how freedom allows Americans the ability to make choices that determine the paths of their lives.

But for some Americans, freedom comes with an asterisk.  

Often, I hear everyone — from my peers at work to pundits on television — describe the U.S. Constitution as the foundation upon which our nation was created. While that is true, history teaches us the Founding Fathers’ idea of freedom was not extended to women, people of color or indigenous peoples.  That would come much later, in a patchwork of laws, including the 13th and 14th amendments.  

These were supposed to level the playing field, but that’s not the way it occurred.

Some say diversity is a curse word.  That the creation of things, like a new national holiday, is annoying, and unnecessary.  Why is embracing different cultures difficult for so many people?  Why is it OK to embrace GermanFest but vilify Juneteenth?  See, there’s a difference between integration and assimilation.  

Integration is the acceptance of that which is different from the norm but brought equally into the fold to make the whole greater … like ingredients into a pie.  As part of that acceptance, everyone gets to enjoy all of the culture, the music and the history to make the group an integral part of that whole.  

Assimilation is the blind mashing of a culture into that of the majority, making it devoid of its identity and collapsing it into the whole.

Where’s the freedom in that? America is for everyone. Unconditionally. When everyone is truly “free,” it doesn’t take anything from anyone else. It doesn’t deprive the majority of any liberties or benefits they’ve enjoyed. What it actually does is create a more complete society, where we all get to enjoy the benefit of all cultures to make that “more perfect union” the Framers discussed.  

Freedom shouldn’t come with an asterisk.  

Enjoy the holiday.

Mark C. Philpot
Quincy, Illinois

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