Answering a child’s question: A land of the free, home of the brave — for whom? | Ana White

April 11, 2021 6:30 am

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo testified in the murder trial of former officer Derek Chauvin on April 5, 2021 (Minnesota Reformer screen capture).

I recently held an interesting conversation about the Pledge of Allegiance with my children. My 10-year-old, filled with inquisitiveness in between her cyber-school schedule, asked me a series of questions:

Ana White (Capital-Star file)

“What does it mean to pledge allegiance to a flag?”

“Why is it ‘one nation, under God’?”

And perhaps the most important question: “Why does it say Liberty and Justice, but we’re talking about injustice?”.

While the initial posing of those questions stunned me, it showed a strong understanding that even children have doubts about the pledge we have held onto in this country, a country advertised as a free, thriving, welcoming country that has met many with limited liberties, injustice to spare, and a dismissal of its initial promise for liberty and justice for all.

For many, America’s original sin shows itself repeatedly, leaving many with more questions than answers.

What does it mean to pledge allegiance to a flag? What level of loyalty to the Republic should one have, and how does it prioritize itself against the loyalty individuals should have with their own moral fabric?

What would God, the universe, the Creator, or whichever spiritual entity one follows conclude about recent attacks on Asian Americans, the constant attack on Black and Brown bodies, and the violence brought about by hate? How much of the Republic represents the best parts of us as citizens, and how much of it represents our track record of carrying out its dirty work?

Allegiance means a commitment or strong dedication to something. While we may view that as patriotic, being loyal to some of Old American values feels less patriotic. Recent acts made in the name of the Republic begs the question of what we have even been pledging allegiance to in the first place.

The country’s moral fabric appeared to be unraveling from its tight knot by way of progressive movements and policies designed to allow the Statue of Liberty to extend its arms to tired and poor individuals once again.

Liberty’s hands, now clenched in a tight fist, once found itself open and ready.

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We appeared at one point to mirror in the Creator’s request to treat all as equals, showing compassion and support for all. But where do we stand today, as we watch a murder trial that has shattered the spirit of America and with it, our hopes of ‘one nation, under God’?

Has our solidarity stood the test of time, or will our union-under the watchful eye of the same Creator- contradict itself in images of broken justice systems, healthcare disparities, poverty, oppression, and our incessant need to work backwards in divisiveness, rather than forward towards a stronger, more unified country?

And what of the liberties and justice that we speak of? How do we recite the affirmations of liberty and justice for all while knowing all too well that we have fallen short in delivering those promises?

How do we explain the ‘Land of the Free, Home of the Brave’ idea to the children, who are seeing the broken promises play out in real time?

As we move through our reality in a country where the scales are very much tilted, it will be mindful to remember that the words we use are heard by a new generation. A generation that still desires to understand the words, their power, and most importantly, the follow through.

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The liberties and justice in this country must match the cheers and affirmations. We can no longer work under a “Do as I say, not as I do” pledge of allegiance. We must live out those words and bring truth to power. In doing so, we may one day atone for America’s original sin-that of inequity, oppression and division.

I watched my daughter’s active listening skills at play as I answered the questions. I flinched internally as I answered, realizing that I could not fully match truth to power.

I omitted the pain in the words’ reality. I smiled through the parts I had once remembered and emphasized as the daughter of an immigrant family when I was her age.

As a writer, I knew how important the words I told her would be to sustaining her.

My only hope is that we can once again recite the pledge in its fullness and stand by those very words. May our next steps match the words we pledged to live by.

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