Part of what we celebrate on the Fourth of July — we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal — is a myth in the sense that many people believe it and espouse it, but it’s simply not true.
What is self-evident to me is that all people are not created equal. IQ ranges from 55 to 145. One of my adult friends is 4’2″ while another is 6’3′. Some were born with perfect pitch. Some can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Some have been confined to a wheelchair since birth and others run marathons. Try to picture a one-on-one basketball game between me and Lebron James!
In fact, Jefferson himself didn’t mean “all human beings” are equal, at least not in practice. He owned hundreds of slaves himself. What’s more, 41 of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were slave owners. The equality of humankind was certainly not self-evident to Alexander Stephens, the Vice-President of the Confederacy, who believed the “great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition.”
So, in that sense, the contention that all people are created equal is a myth to be debunked with other fake news like the sun revolving around the earth and Barack Obama being born in Africa.
But the statement that “all men are created equal” is a myth in another sense of the word. Merriam-Webster tells us that the word “myth” can be used to mean, “a popular belief or tradition that has grown up. . . embodying the ideals and institutions of a society or segment of society.”
In that sense of the word “myth,” we could create a Declaration of Diversity, a myth for our little community by paraphrasing Thomas Jefferson.
“We in Forest Park hold these truths to be self-evident, that all human beings—old and young; male and female; rich, poor and middle class; people of faith and nones; gay and straight; extrovert and introvert; conservative and liberal; brown, black and white; folks with disabilities and those without—are created equal and have certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Is it an accurate description of how we actually behave? Of course not. I recognize biases in me which are inconsistent with the “everyone is equal” myth, but the point is that this Declaration of Diversity articulates how I want to behave. It’s what I want this village to strive for even if we never get all the way there. It’s one of the myths by which we measure our “greatness.”
And if some “out of towner” should ask what we really mean by those noble sounding words, we would find ourselves telling stories to explain why we do like being part of this community. We would talk about African Americans marching in the St. Patrick’s Day parade — and having a having a pint of Guinness Stout afterward in a bar with an Irish name — and Irish Americans chatting with neighbors at the Juneteenth celebration.
Regarding the “self-evident” wording in the myth, we tend to see what we believe. President Obama, for example, was partly raised by a white grandmother who loved him deeply, and his “implicit bias,” until his experience proved otherwise, was therefore that white folks would treat him well if he did the same to them.
If we believe the myth that life is basically a dog eat dog, Darwinian survival of the fittest, it won’t take long to find examples of behavior informed by that outlook in Forest Park. We see what we believe. But friends of mine who believe that all of us are this paradoxical mixture of saint and sinner will find even more examples of that, I contend, in our village.
That’s why, as we celebrate Independence Day, it’s so important to carefully examine which myths determine how we see “reality” and guide our decisions regarding how we go about creating community, regarding who is included in the inner circle, who is not and how large that circle will be.
That’s why Juneteenth being celebrated a week before the Fourth of July and Famous Liquors allowing Empowering Gardens patrons to use its parking lot are two of the many stories we need to tell each other to clarify with concreteness and specificity what we mean by everyone has been created equal.