As I walked home from my Fourth of July celebrations through Seattle’s gayborhood, Capitol Hill, I saw multitudes of queers and hipsters celebrating this problematic holiday much the same way as my friends and I did. I saw them embroil themselves in the most stereotypical modes of celebration known to this nation: drunkenness, BBQs, fireworks, patriotic iconography, national songs, and shouts of patriotic fervor.
Yet the way they threw themselves into these celebrations showed a quintessentially hipsteresque level of irony and sarcasm. As social progressives, they are well apprised of the past and present sins of our nation; as queers, they know quite well that they are not even fully-equal citizens. They are conflicted about their relationship to their country, as am I. We know there are worse places on this earth, but we can’t escape the knowledge that there are some things that are fundamentally wrong with America.
We of the gayborhood eschew the unexamined, unquestioned nationalism, xenophobia, and jingoism that usually accompany Independence Day festivities. We ride dangerously close to the edge, almost replicating these expressions of narrow-mindedness, but staying just this side of informed mockery.
Massive, official displays of American patriotism are absurd. Our country has made war, enslaved, extorted and exploited. We are founded on the genocide of the people who were here before the white man came. We continue to struggle under endemic domestic social ills, and we continue to be a petulant bully in the outside world. To celebrate the purified, sanitized version of our history that we learned in schools and that we know is deliberately falsified, is to celebrate white supremacy and open lies.
The Fourth of July is absurd. Human nature has, fortunately, developed a mechanism for handling the absurd. It’s called humor, and it is a survival mechanism. The queers and the hipsters of Capitol Hill kicked into full survival mode this 4th by recognizing the absurdity of the day that lay before them and found their typical means of solace worthy to the task. They fell back on sarcasm and irony, and went through the empty motions of self-congratulatory nationalism to wallow in them, to handle this confusing day the best they could.
I joined them. I was one of them. I lit off fireworks, drank the champagne of beers, grilled hotdogs, shouted USA! USA! while pumping my fist in the air, and sang America the Beautiful. My friends and I all silently thought about genocide, slavery and war. We drank until we could no longer consider such complex topics, and then we wandered home to the sporadic sounds of firecrakers like gunfire in the night. Hell, it could have been real gunfire for all I know.
(c) 7/7/08 idyllicmollusk
UPDATE 11/28/08: Check out this super post about learning eurocentric history at stuff white people do.