Today I have no “Happy 4th of July/Independence Day” in me. For the past few days I’ve felt I have no lot in this day and I’m not the least bit compelled to sing “I’m proud to be an American,” because I’m not sure that I am. I was raised in a Jamaican family that wasn’t the least bit interested in waving an American flag, so I feel more Caribbean than I do American. Aside from that, as I reflect on this day, I see no merit in it from both a historical and current perspective.
The signing of the Declaration of Independence changed nothing of the Negro’s status–I’m channeling a little Frederick Douglass here. It secured the independence of white men and women by way of allowing them to live and move in an independent nation but black people were still enslaved. It would take nearly a century for black persons to taste freedom and even then that freedom was limited and subpar. The self-evident truth of equality and the unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness didn’t apply to people of color, and, as a friend pointed out, still doesn’t. We may be equal–and that’s arguable–but we lack the equity necessary to secure success for the greater community. We still suffer from disparities in access to employment, education, economic resources and daily struggle for independence in a society that runs on the power of the patriarchy and privilege–white or otherwise. I see nothing to celebrate. As I’ve said on numerous occasion, “If one is not free, none are free.”
I’m not the most militant person but on this day I feel this way because I don’t think there is a reason for me to wave any flag aside from a Jamaican one or Somalian, Eritrean, Ethiopian one–I’ll explain the latter three in another post. This will probably be the way I feel for an indefinite amount of time until I believe AND see equity–not equality–and the true extension of the unalienable right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to all people.
Frederick Douglass’s speech “What to the Slave is the 4th of July?” captures precisely why I have no spirit for this day. His words are not just about history but our current moment in time. They are full of the frustration I and many like me feel, but he also has hope for the future. A hope not yet realized but hope required nonetheless. Below is an excerpt from his speech that resonated with me:
Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful. For who is there so cold, that a nation’s sympathy could not warm him? Who so obdurate and dead to the claims of gratitude, that would not thankfully acknowledge such priceless benefits? Who so stolid and selfish, that would not give his voice to swell the hallelujahs of a nation’s jubilee, when the chains of servitude had been torn from his limbs? I am not that man. In a case like that, the dumb might eloquently speak, and the “lame man leap as an hart.”But, such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. — The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, lowering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrecoverable ruin! I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people!