Polite Fiction vs. Cynical View

27 Jun

Maybe I’m too cynical, but I’ve found recently that often I can’t take things at face value. I’m always thinking, “What’s the angle?” “What are they trying to push.” This applies to the news, to ads, but most recently, to holidays.

So my city recently celebrated Juneteenth—when the last slaves were informed they were free—which was June 19th, 1865. The City of Phoenix took the day off; Tempe had Juneteenth flags in the streets (alternating with the new Pride flags, for the month of June). I celebrated it by going to two bars, getting drunk, and having great conversations with vets. Now when discussing Juneteenth with my wife, more specifically its place in civil religion (yeah, these are the conversations I have with my lover—you know you want it), she gave a reason for its recognition that I interpreted as “polite.”

She was of the opinion that this, in addition to MLK Day, were two holidays dedicated to civil rights and it shows the shift in our national discourse and what we choose to celebrate. She put it in the lens of “civil religion” (which is often given as a pejorative), the religious-style way that we approach our national identity. We have sacred documents (Constitution, Declaration of Independence), hymns (America the Beautiful, National Anthem), liturgy (“I pledge allegiance to the flag…), and pilgrimage sites (White House, The Mall, Arlington National Cemetery).

But there’s a reason its pejorative; the reason for many of those “sacred” items in our civil religion were done for cynical reasons. The Constitution was a compromise between different political factions. The Pledge of Allegiance was added around WWI to ensure immigrants identified themselves as Americans; “under God” was added in the 1950’s to fight Communist “godless atheism.”

Which leads to holidays. Independence Day should have been June 2nd, when it was signed, but since it was only announced on the 4th, that’s the day that stuck. Columbus Day became a holiday to honor the Columbian Exposition in Chicago around 1892, which celebrates the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the New World. Well, that’s the polite answer. It was really to ensure the loyalty of hundreds of thousands of Italian immigrants and get their vote for McKinley.

Juneteenth might honor the end of slavery in America, but it only became popularized after the Tulsa riots on May 30-June 1, 1921 that destroyed Black Wall Street. (Not our finest hour. Also–came up while drinking in bars on Juneteenth.) We don’t like remembering a disaster, so we remember the positive. But at a time when racial politics are emphasized, it’s a way to ensure the loyalty of millions of African-Americans. Now—does that mean we shouldn’t celebrate it? By no means! We should remember ending slavery. We should remember Tulsa. We should remember Columbus AND the destruction of the native peoples as a result.

But the cynical side of me says to not pretend that this is proof of an evolution of the national consciousness. This is a political move to appeal to areas that have a large African-American population, or in the case of Tempe, people who want that evolution of the national consciousness. But I could be too cynical. Is it all right to do the right thing for the wrong reasons? Or to put a polite fiction over a gritty reality? Let me know in the comments below!

4 Responses to “Polite Fiction vs. Cynical View”

  1. Jane Tawel June 28, 2022 at 5:56 am #

    Wow. What can I say, I hate so much that you are right, but you are right. Cynicism in the right hands reveals a deeper truth than what “the Powers” or the surface truth would have us believe. The problem for me always is this: Okay, I see the deeper meaning and reality behind all this, now what do i DO? Cynicism sometimes leaves me weak and hopeless. Not sure if after your few drinks the other night you felt the same? –LOL! Anyway, truth matters and I appreciate very much your saying, we should honor and celebrate even if the people who institute it have corrupt motives. We don’t have to. Thank you. Well done! Jane

    • albigensia June 28, 2022 at 11:10 am #

      I frequently ask the question, “Now what?” especially when it comes to racial justice, climate change, and other GIANT issues that activists bring up. If there is something small and reasonable I can do, I’ll do it. But frequently the answer is either “Be afraid,” “Be ashamed,” or “Be aware.”

      As Americans, I think we should embrace our finest asset: holding two contradictory opinions at the same time. ;D You can still be proud of our country while aware of its sins. That’s the phrase that pays for today; thanks for reading.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Polite Fiction vs. Cynical View | James' World 2 - June 27, 2022

    […] Polite Fiction vs. Cynical View […]

  2. “Now What?” | Albigensia Press - June 30, 2022

    […] of my readers asked that same question of me – I brought up the history of Juneteenth and the problem of trying to love our country at the same time being aware of its sins. A lot of […]

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