The Ghosts of Our Ancestors



*Note: this post might make you uncomfortable.

A recent viral video of a black man giving a speech regarding gun rights at a city council meeting struck me as odd. In the video, he passionately discusses what the founding fathers meant when they wrote the constitution. His speech was shared countless times.

This post isn’t about gun rights at all. It’s about the underlying history of our country, one which was based on denial of rights to large segments of society.

If you get distracted by the mere mention of a gun, you’re missing the entire point.

I can’t get over the fact that the constitution and many who wrote it didn’t see the speaker in question as a person at all, much less one with the right to address a political body, own property, vote, or own a firearm of any kind.

I feel uneasy about the gentleman’s reasoning and my surprise at the arguments he used. He used his status as a law-abiding citizen as a foundation for his speech. This, too, presents problems, as being law-abiding has at times in our past required us to honor the right of some to own other human beings, segregate schools, force citizens into concentration camps, deport American citizens, and to sit idly as many in our population were treated as lesser human beings. “Law-abiding” is such an intolerably low threshold for us. The law serves as a framework for us, but it has also allowed all manner of atrocious conduct among citizens.

I dislike arguments appealing to the intent of the founding fathers. That all of them were men is itself part of the problem. Wealthy men of privilege, no less. Their intent isn’t relevant to our modern right to governance, although it still mostly resembles our modern government. We have the right to amend or deviate from any and all intentions of the rich men who wrote the constitution, without deference or adoration.

If we are not responsible for the sins or omissions of our ancestors, neither are we accountable to their norms and failures. We are free to draw on this map of ours in any matter we see fit.

I don’t revere documents, especially ones which codify ideas which contradict much of what we now esteem. Instead, I observe the arc of history and wonder what we might choose for ourselves if we weren’t saddled with the tired arguments of the ghosts who preceded us. More importantly, how might we choose if reason itself were truly the ideal we cherished above all others?

It’s a scary thought for many to consider that our constitution was built with the concept of amendment. We can choose to change course, even as many fight all attempts toward progress. We can’t make America great again until we’ve managed to live a century without engaging in barbaric behavior. It’s dishonest to claim that we’ve done so.

It’s precisely that reason that the black speaker in question was able to address his representatives, own firearms, and be a full citizen. Without the process of change and amendment, such expression would not have been possible. There are wide swaths of our modern United States in which I am certain that the speaker in question would not have been welcome to speak publicly.

The speaker in question demanded his constitutional right to bear arms, all the while failing to see the quicksand of incongruity on which his argument rested. The founding fathers did not believe that the constitution applied to him. Even as the speaker used the constitution to demand his right to freely own firearms, he missed the contradiction that the same document originally prohibited him from being included among those with such rights.

One change granted him citizenship; another might overtake him.

And so, we march forward, uneasily wondering what change will greet us.

Some of us want more, for all.

Others, the same, as before.

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