Happy 4th of July. America’s Independence Day. The day the nation officially separated itself from England and built its own empire on the basis of equality. The Founding Fathers stated: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. What beautiful words, filled with hope and unfortunate false promises.
In 1776, people of color were not free, not independent, and not even considered people. While today we are free, we are not treated equally due to prejudice and loopholes within legislation as well as social and cultural influences that still rot our society today as a result of slavery. Every year on the 4th of July I take time to read Frederick Douglass’ speech, “What to a Slave is the 4th of July”. Then, the 4th was “a day that reveals to him [slaves], more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is a constant victim”. This statement still rings true today, especially under the Trump Administration. We are living in a constant state of fear and disgust as we watch, rage, and protest their inhumane policies. One of the most recent and notable being the separation of immigrant families at the border between Mexico and the US. Photos have surfaced of young children in cages, sleeping huddled together, crying out for their parents after being taken by ICE. The scene is hauntingly reminiscent of internment and concentration camps from WWII. Immigrants are not being treated as human, their lives are not being valued by a country who claims to be great due to its basis of equality. How can we celebrate our independence and our basic human rights when we are not giving these opportunities to people who have come to America dreaming of a better life as our Founding Fathers did hundreds of years ago.
America was not built on freedom. Slaves built the white house. Slaves built this country. Black women are the backbone of this nation as they endured inconceivable pain and suffering to provide descendants and necessities for this country. Everyday another innocent black man is killed by police officers because he is black. Everyday another law is passed that suppresses women or people of color or the LGBT+ community. This isn’t freedom. Equal opportunity is the American Dream; a concept taught to our youngest civilians and immigrants. We’re taught that if you work hard enough and dream big enough you can do or be anything you want. Those in Washington who are preaching this ideal are also the ones working to make sure it does not become a reality for anyone who is not a cis white male. The 4th highlights the differences in our society, our parades and fireworks magnifying “fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy” (Douglass).
The only time I ever felt like celebrating the 4th of July was during the Obama Administration. Barack Obama being a true representative of the American Dream and hope: a biracial black man defying the odds and becoming leader of the free world. During his presidency, he remained a true example of what it means to be an American and a quality ally to every community. In 2016, during his remarks for the holiday, he stated that the 4th is a time to celebrate our nation and its history-- but also “to recommit ourselves to making sure that everybody in this country is free; that everybody has opportunity; that everybody gets a fair shot; that we look after all of our veterans when they come home; that we look after our military families and give them a fair shake; that every child has a good education. That is what we should be striving for on Independence Day”.
So as you enjoy your barbecue, fireworks, and American Flag attire, don’t forget to make time for reflection too. Reflect on our history and how it has shaped us into our current state; as well as how we can move forward as a united front and progress as a nation toward making the dream of equality a reality. Support your community, vote, and celebrate minority national holidays like Pride, Juneteenth, Black History Month, and International Women’s Day to name a few among the long list of many.