On this Independence Day, don't let anyone tell you what it means to be an American.
Don't let whoever can shout the loudest define who is and is not a Real American. Ronald Reagan and Audie Murphy were Americans. So were Sandra Bland and Mother Jones and Fred Hampton and Eugene Debs and Paul Robeson.
Don't let other people use their total ignorance of history to invent an America that never was and then insist that we must return to it – an America devoid of slavery, inequality, Indian genocide, gender discrimination, and white supremacy.
Don't let anyone rewrite American history as an unbroken tableau of pure Rugged Individualism devoid of collective action, community, public goods, and the role of central government.
Don't feel ashamed to assert the difference between patriotism and jingoism just because the people around you think they are one and the same.
Don't forget that Mel Gibson or Chuck Norris or John Wayne war films are not documentaries. They are idealized fantasy versions of what in reality were struggles that required monumental collective sacrifice and effort to achieve success.
Don't let anyone forget that this country has, for more than 300 years, become home to people of every language, skin color, religion, nation of origin, and ethnicity. Rarely have we succeeded in welcoming all of these people with open arms, but we have the opportunity to learn from those mistakes and recognize how much better we are for it.
Don't support the fallacy that America has buried all of its problems in the past; that, OK, maybe a few people used to be racist but now we elected a black president so racism is over; that the drum beat of war hawks may have led us astray a few times, but this time is different; that we used to discriminate against women but stopped, and we used to treat poor people badly but now we don't, and that unfettered Robber Baron capitalism brought us to ruin once but this time just you watch and see the magic.
Don't let anyone convince you that it's OK to vilify other Americans to justify one's own failures. The poor did not steal your money. The Mexicans did not steal your job. Nobody is coming for Your Women or your guns or your Bibles.
Don't be silent when people voice support for denying rights to other Americans that they demand for themselves.
Don't let descriptions of the Good Ol' Days go unchallenged, without pointing out how many people had to be oppressed and discriminated against to allow white middle class America to enjoy the post-War prosperity to the extent that it did.
Don't listen to rants about The Young People These Days without recognizing how many advantages our predecessors had that young people today do not and never will have.
Don't be swayed by symbolism and empty emotional appeals. Think about what being an American means rather than shouting bumper sticker slogans.
Don't forget to remember all that we do have without forgetting all of the ways in which we can do better.
And, most importantly, no matter how much as it seems like a good idea to light a firework while it's in your hand, trust me on this one. It isn't a good idea.