Clay Rivers
Jul 5, 2016 · 4 min read
Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies.” Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris.


When examining all forms of communication/art, it’s one thing to take a work at face value and another to interpret the work understanding the author’s intent behind creating it. To look at a Monet painting with no knowledge of his intent one might appreciate it for what it is, a striking painting of flowers that appears to be way out of focus. But to look at a Monet knowing what Monet attempted to achieve stylistically (capturing the interplay of light and shapes through color only) lends to a greater appreciation of the work. Neither approach is right or wrong. Both create a connection with viewer, but one affords a deeper understanding of Monet’s expression.

To ask Dominique Matti to adjust her narrative is like asking Monet to change his style/point of view. Can you imagine? Monet, that’s a nice painting; but your work would connect with more people if you painted more like x. The better adjustment would be in trying to understand what Matti wanted to convey.

I don’t speak for Matti nor do I know her thought processes, but in my interpretation of the piece, her article wasn’t written to connect with any particular audience. My guess is she wrote it to convey the state of her union as a Black woman on this Fourth of July and why she feels that way. The article struck me as a reflective piece as it’s written primarily in the first person and she writes of her own experiences.

So from my laptop, I don’t think there’s a need to change Matti’s narrative at all for her audience … which I guess is anyone intrigued enough by the title to read it. Notice, she used no cloying How To or X Steps To headline to hook potential readers.

But to answer the question you asked of me … perhaps America’s promises aren’t so much lies as much as they are half-truths. It is true that America is a free country and there is liberty and justice for all. Individual freedom and autonomy are not mental constructs, they’re God-given rights of every American. Everyone has individual freedom. But that’s the not the whole truth and nothing but the truth. There are other truths just as salient as “America is a free country” that most Americans are not as near as eager to extoll from sea to shining sea. For example—

The man-made rights (created by and reserved for a select few) that outclass, outrank, and hem in the rights of others (at their own expense).

“Everyone can vote. The Constitution guarantees it … as long as you meet these other criteria we’ve created. Oh, you don’t have the means to meet this [insert restriction of your choice]? Sucks to be you.”

“Everyone born on American soil is a citizen and will be afforded all the rights and privileges of citizenship … except [insert any number of restrictions currently in effect].”

“The contributions of people of color are highly valued in America. They’re valued so much that we’ve instituted a non-spoken stricter criteria for [insert your term for success, athleticism, education, beauty, business acumen, etc.]

See what I mean?

The point is, it doesn’t matter whether the ugly truths are made known or are swept under the rug, the fact that they exist and are in practice on such a pervasive scale renders the concept of liberty and justice for all a lot less than true.

How do we work toward making America a place where all people are free and all have a right to autonomy? Diligently. And on all levels of society.

  • We need lawmakers in place who are about the business of leveling the playing field for all, not all of one kind.
  • We the people can make this grand experiment in democracy (yeah, I know it’s a republic) a more perfect union by dismantling systems that reward bad behavior for some while at the same time ruining the lives of others for the same behavior.
  • Would that we were able to root out the “I’ve got mine and I got it by pulling myself up by my own label boot straps. Got no boots? System’s working against you? Work harder” attitude.
  • And this — what we’re doing right here — is a good start. Believe it or not, this one-on-one public exchange of ideas does have an affect. I’m sure there are several people out there who are thinking I never thought of it that way.

It all goes back to that snow analogy. We must be willing to open our minds to the possibility that the way we see the world is not the only way it can exist. We must be willing to not only listen and dialogue with mutual respect but to step out of our comfort zones and help one another. Love one another.

Clay Rivers

Written by

Author, art director, actor, and optimist. I write about equality, faith, and racism. Let’s chat over espresso. Books at:

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade