A Declaration Of Inclusion On Independence Day

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As an Air Force brat, July 4th was a big deal growing up on various military bases around the country. In many ways, it was a celebration of what Independence Day is supposed to look like: free people of all races, ethnicities and religions living, working and thriving--together.

Our patriotism was a fact of life. Every day in school we pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. At 5pm, people stopped whatever they were doing, wherever they were to pay their respects to the flag while listening to the national anthem.

But as I grew older I grappled with the cognitive dissonance created by being an African American, only the fourth generation from slavery, and learning that the bold Declaration of Independence that we celebrated didn't confer its benefits upon everyone equally. Indeed, that the "all men" it referenced was not just a term of art but a statement of belief that the United States of America was for and by those who looked like the people who signed the Declaration--white, wealthy, mostly Christian men.

Everyone else was excluded.

It is clear that this gross omission continues to drive a destructive form of nationalism based on fear of or anger towards racial, ethnic, religious, sexual, and other "minorities" who threaten the perceived "way of life" of those who imagine themselves to be legitimately American.

This strain of xenophobic nationalism has recently grown stronger in our national politics and discourse and has spurred my previous calls for an Inclusion Revolution that encourages people from all backgrounds to join together to defeat those who seek to reassert legally sanctioned privileges for a chosen few through divide and conquer tactics.

We cannot let the politics of privilege destroy our quest for a more perfect union in which our national institutions work to ensure shared prosperity for Americans of all backgrounds, including those who have been traditionally marginalized.

This can be done in part by correcting the historical precedent that has led us to this moment.

So, on the 240th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, it is appropriate to call for a new declaration for America: a Declaration of Inclusion, one that explicitly and deliberately includes people of color, women, people with disabilities, the LGBTQ community and every other group that was left out the first time around.

This Declaration would confront long standing and misguided notions about who the U.S. is by and for. Given the increasingly diverse and pluralistic nature of our country, the answer cannot be the same one presented by the founding fathers, whose limited concept of belonging cemented white masculinity as the default definition of citizenship.

Unfortunately, this notion of the default American is reinforced today when in the aftermath of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history in Orlando, leaders and commentators call for the profiling (or worse, banning) of Muslims, even though many Muslims, including the shooter himself, are American; when an "ethnic-looking" judge born in Indiana is presumed to be from Mexico; when African Americans and Latinos are challenged at the polls over their right to cast a ballot in U.S. elections; and when LGBTQ Americans are denied equal protection and subjected to laws that make it legal for businesses to deny them services.

This must change if the U.S. is to survive and thrive for another 240 years.

The Declaration of Inclusion would affirm our national commitment to diversity and inclusion. It would acknowledge that our diversity is our strength and not our problem and it would recognize that we all have a right to enjoy the full protection and benefits of citizenship regardless of wealth, ability, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or religion.

Finally, it would recognize that Americans of all backgrounds have made this country what it is today and reject the regressive forces of exclusion that threaten America's promise of opportunity for all.

In this spirit and for this great purpose, it's time for our nation's leaders to affirm the universal application of our democratic principles by denouncing the politics of exclusion and standing for inclusion.

You can tell them you agree at http://theinclusionrevolution.us.

Dr. Maya Rockeymoore is the president of Global Policy Solutions, author of the Political Action Handbook, a How To Guide for the Hip Hop Generation, and co-editor of Strengthening Communities: Social Insurance in a Diverse America.