There are countless pictures of me taken on the Fourth of July. They’re probably somewhere in the attic buried under old blankets and clothes that I can’t fit anymore. I’m standing in front of my house, holding a few American flags, the gap in my tooth looking bigger than I remembered it to be. Since I am naturally an “extra” person, I gave Uncle Sam a run for his money. I was covered in red, white, and blue. I was the human form of the American flag. At that age, I didn’t realize that the “holiday” that I was celebrating was not a representative of me or my people. Some call today, July 4th, Independence Day. I’ll give a brief history, but I’m pretty sure everyone knows it by now. If you’re American, it was shoved into our brains as soon as we started school.
July 2nd, 1776, the Congress voted in favor for independence from the British. Two days later, July 4th for those who can’t count, delegates from the thirteen colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence, drafted by Thomas Jefferson. Since then, people have been celebrating by firing up the grill and lighting up their fireworks. I cringe when I think about my star spangled ass running around the family barbecue. Now, it makes me cringe when I see people…my people…wearing red, white, and blue, wishing others a Happy Fourth. I just want to grab a hold of their shoulders and say, “THIS HOLIDAY HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU!!! YOU KNOW THAT RIGHT!?!?!?”
On July 5th, statesmen, writer, orator, social reformist, and of course, abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, delivered one of his most known speeches to date, “What To The Slave Is The Fourth of July?” It goes as follows:
“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?…
I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of 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 light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn…
What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.”
Let me give a rough summation of what he’s saying; how the hell does this have anything to do with me and my people? This independence is for you white sons of guns and not me. I’m sure Mr. Douglass’s explanation would be a lot more complex, but hopefully now you get the picture if you didn’t take the time to read all of Frederick Douglass’s speech. Let’s think about the current problems that are taking place today. The government is literally losing children in their custody; separating them from their families and having them lay on tin foil to keep warm. I mean you see it all over your Twitter feed, it’s not like it isn’t happening. They are literally in cages. Black people are still being shot down like it’s deer season. People are still being denied basic human rights. Black people and people of color are still looked at as second class citizens. Black people were not freed until 1865, and even after that, we are still being degraded due to our looks, but it seems like every little white girl from California is trying to tan as much as possible to get that bronze look, and plumping their lips up with filler.
I’ve kind of strayed from the topic at had a little bit, but all I’m saying is that my fellow black people! This day is not for us. We aren’t celebrating our freedom, we are reveling in our enslavement. The day has passed, but if you want to celebrate “freedom,” celebrate Juneteeth (June 19th). June 19th, 1965 was the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas, as well as the emancipation of slavery through the confederate states of America. That day is also my birthday, so I especially hold that day near and dear to my heart. There are so many people who share the same skin tone as me who saw this past June 19th as just a regular day.
How can we celebrate the Fourth of July when the freedom does not cross over to us? Like Frederick Douglass said, we have nothing to do with your independence. So when you’re igniting sparklers and waving American flags around, stop for a minute and gaze into that red, white and blue…does this really represent me?