Is there a way to celebrate America while acknowledging the worst of its problems? - Generocity Philly


Jul. 5, 2018 12:13 pm

Is there a way to celebrate America while acknowledging the worst of its problems?

Columnist Lansie Sylvia on July 4 parties and giving back.

Fireworks in Philly.

(Photo courtesy of Visit Philadelphia)

How to Give” is a monthly column by local philanthropy wizard Lansie Sylvia. In it, Lansie answers readers’ questions about millennials, philanthropy and engaging the next generation of givers. To ask her a question, tweet @FancyLansie.


Every year, my partner and I host a big Fourth of July party for our friends and family. This year, my partner didn’t feel comfortable “celebrating America” because of the issues with ICE and border separations of immigrant families, so they thought we should instead donate the money we would have spent on the party (usually around $250-350) to RAICES and spend the day protesting. I argued that America has always been problematic but that it shouldn’t keep us from celebrating a day of togetherness with those close to us. Who was right, and what should we do next year?

I feel like this dispute might be the closest that I’ll ever get to being Judge John Hodgman so thank you for that, but it’s also one of the toughest things I’ve mulled on for this column, so oooof!

Pretty much every American holiday is super problematic (looking at you, Thanksgiving) and Americans have always behaved terribly in the name of making America great for a very select few (looking at you, Andrew Jackson and probably every other president in history.)

So, while it may feel worse right now, and perhaps it is worse right now, there have been a lot of people in a lot of pain for a lot of time whilst others have been sipping on lemonade and eating hot dogs. That’s hard to hear, but it’s true.

From our Partners

Personally, I choose to celebrate the parts of America that I really, really love while also acknowledging and working through the parts that I really, really loathe. I’m a lucky person when it comes to the birth lottery, so I need to pay it forward and help those whose circumstances weren’t so rosy right out of the womb.

Creating intentional community in the face of those that try to divide us can be a radical act.

It’s one of the reasons I’m such an evangelist about setting up monthly giving for causes you care about. All the terrible -isms don’t go away overnight. They’re always there — not just on holidays. And there are always people fighting them (mostly women of color, if we’re being honest) so you always need to be doing something to help. For me, that’s giving money because I know I can’t give much of my time right now, plus being extra-intentional about supporting businesses that benefit under-resourced and historically marginalized communities.

Planning for your spending can keep much more money circulating within the hands of the people that need it the most. Where you spend your money matters, and supporting businesses owned and operated by women, people of color, immigrants and others can help to unwind the patriarchal capitalist tentacles that seek to strangle us all, but it’s an extra step that many people get too overwhelmed to take. I’m totally guilty of this, but I’m always trying to get better. Planning a few weeks in advance helps a lot!

How you spend your time matters as well, and creating intentional community in the face of those that try to divide us can be a radical act. It can also be an easy way to avoid thinking about, and acting on, the really terrible stuff that’s happening right now. I don’t know you or your partner, so I don’t know what the right balance is for you two. For me, I try to get my resistin’ in during the workweek and take my weekends to recharge.

After the 2016 election, someone on my Facebook timeline (I think it was the inimitable Kate Catherall) said that resistance is like a chorus: For the song to be sustained, sometimes you need to sing and sometimes you need to take a breath. For me, spending time with my friends and family is when I take a breath. And since you’re the hosts for this event, you may be providing that space to recharge and take a breath to yourselves and your friends and family as well.

Holidays be treated with intentionality in your home so that you can use days of celebration to also uplift and support others.

Spending time with, and money on, the people you care about is itself a type of gift but all time is not created equal. Sometimes holidays are the only time you get with certain people because of distance and schedules, so you have to use that time wisely! Yes, large protests tend to happen on significant days so that they can receive maximum news coverage, but that’s not the only time they happen. You can protest border separations in a lot of ways on a lot of days, so July 4 may not be the only option, but it may feel like a specifically significant option.

If I were Judge John Hodgman, I would rule in your favor, but with the caveat that holidays be treated with intentionality in your home so that you can use days of celebration to also uplift and support others. For next year’s Fourth of July celebration, I rule that you ask each of your guests to bring a dish that represents their immigrant backgrounds (because we’re all immigrants in some way) and you use the money that you save on buying foodstuffs to support a nonprofit that’s working towards justice for people of color, immigrants, women, LGBTQ+ individuals, indigenous people or others that are still crushed under America’s spangle-strewn heels.

Furthermore, I rule that you carefully research where you can purchase party supplies that are more sustainable and that you then share this research with your guests so that they can see that your values are shifting more towards having a presence within these family gatherings. This can be a gentle push towards creating conversations about privilege, access and wealth distribution whilst you’re throwing another (sustainably sourced!) shrimp on the barbie.

This is the sound of a gavel ::insert sparkler sound::

Judge Fancy Lansie rules; that is all.


From our Partners

Will philanthropy commit to racial equity progress?

By sunsetting, the Douty Foundation makes a strong case for limited-life philanthropy

Scribe explores oral history in ‘Power Politics’ series, funds emerging media makers


Generocity Philly

Village of the Arts seeks to deepen and scale its impact as it reflects on its legacy

Hamilton, NJ

Grounds For Sculpture

Collections & Exhibitions Coordinator

Apply Now
Philadelphia, PA

PA Humanities

Senior Operations Manager

Apply Now
Hamilton, NJ

Grounds For Sculpture


Apply Now

Adult learners need digital literacy, too

How to create a CSR initiative built to last

cinéSPEAK and the future of cinema in West Philly


Generocity Philly

On June 17, First Person Arts and EMOC launch a virtual event they hope will shatter misperceptions of men of color

Philadelphia, PA

Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Philadelphia

Program Officer, Equitable Neighborhoods

Apply Now
3675 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104

University City Science Center

Development Associate

Apply Now

Hagen History Center/Erie County Historical Society

Hagen History Center Executive Director

Apply Now

Sign-up for daily news updates from Generocity