On Friday, the local high school in my New Jersey neighborhood– Cherry Hill East– issued an apology for not being sensitive enough, and honestly, it was kind of silly. There had been some outrage over wording on the school’s prom tickets which read, “let’s party like it’s 1776.” The school – the very same one that was embroiled in national controversy over the use of the N-word in a production of Ragtime last year – wasted no time caving to the pressure, and accepting blame for being “insensitive and irresponsible.” Really, though? Now all reference to the American Revolution is racist?
It’s misplaced outrage like this that causes idiots like Aaron Schlossberg to rant his way through a law career without anyone calling him out for his bigotry; when everything is cause for a big fuss, then nothing is. In this district’s well-intentioned rush to throw out a mea culpa, it does a disservice to all its students – particularly those who value history.
I get the concept of the complaint. If we’re analyzing at the wording of these prom tickets, something’s not quite right. Black students would certainly not want to party like it’s actually 1776, since things would’ve been decidedly different for them back then. I suppose it’s nice that the “African American students” got a shout-out in the district’s apology, although it might be good to point out that if we’re issuing sorries, then women should get some too. Any partying done in ‘76 would’ve meant women doing only what their landowning husbands had permitted. Oh, and what about Jewish students, who would have been largely shunned back in colonial times? And any students of recent English descent? They were the enemy, right? Any apologies for those kids?
Bottom line, the reference to 1776 wasn’t an example of implicit bias or white privilege or unconscious micro-racism or any of those other things that actually do exist. This “controversy” isn’t the battle over confederate monuments, which glorify both moments and ideals that were deeply troubling for millions of people at the time they were actually occurring. Symbols like the confederate flag represent the deeply divisive and the shameful – the worst of American history.
References to the parties of 1776 do just the opposite. We celebrate Independence Day every summer, as one nation of Americans. We hold the founding fathers and their vision in high esteem, even if we sometimes disagree with the role that vision should play in today’s laws. The America of 1776 was far from perfect – just as the America of today is; but it was filled with hope and idealism, just as we still should be. Sadly, American independence from Britain didn’t truly give freedom to everyone at the time—but it was the first progressive step on which our current commitment to civil rights is built. 1776 made us Americans; that was worth celebrating then, and it’s worth celebrating now.
Cries over the “offensive” prom tickets are absurd. There’s a reason why Hamilton tickets cost as much as mortgage payments. The American mindset is firmly grounded in our shared history of the fight for freedom. That revolutionary spirit belongs to all of us, whether our ancestors were unjustly dragged here in chains, whether they arrived wide-eyed on Ellis Island, or whether they arrived here much more recently. That no one noticed a slogan referencing the celebration of American independence might offend black students is not a manifestation of racism or insensitivity; it is a testament to our 2018 belief that we are all Americans, and that our country and its history belongs to all of us.
Let’s save the outrage for the hateful, the exclusionary, and the bigoted; this one is just isn’t worthy.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.