“What, to the American slave, is your Fourth 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.” – Frederick Douglass
Today will be filled with every iconic characterization of a black person possible. We will sit around eating watermelon, chicken, and pork remnants. We will compare out latest shoes and outfits to see who is on fleek the most. The day will conclude with us popping fireworks and watching smoke clear the sky while we try not to burn down our new neighbors house that they just recently saved enough money to move in. Welcome to the neighborhood. You made it.
Today will be so much fun. Is that not the tragedy? So many of America’s tradition and holidays have dark sides that we as a whole refuse to acknowledge. It is very similar to the relationship between the sun and moon. America in many ways is the moon. We view only the reflection of light from our beautiful mother sun. The moon claims that light as its own then we watch in awe as if we do not know the source. We write poems about the moons light, songs basking in the glory of America’s light, but what of the dark side? The side that no one wants to admit is ugly is the one I am interested in writing about. What do we write of the side that most of my high school students at my high school will be too busy buying Jordan’s to see that the celebration of the fourth is the funeral of traditions from so many cultures.
Truth is on July 4, 1776 most of our ancestors of people of color were not free. We had already been here as slaves. In 1619, we were bought and sold as product to the North American colony of Jamestown, Virginia, to aid in the production of tobacco. Africans were attached to America and given the name African-American later in which we began to help build the economic foundations of a country that only valued us as servants and merchandise. We were glorified mules to haul the burden of building a country from almost scratch. Why, almost scratch? Because America so awesomely is America the land of the free except where the free are only those allegianced with America. The indigenous brown skinned Native Americans gave food, shelter, farming techniques to a people that would literally attempt a nationwide genocide of a people that were already here.
Question? How do you find something Mr. Columbus that was already found? How do you claim something as your own that is not yours to claim? Simple. You take it. You outright take it by force, trickery, and deceiving tactics to control those you aim to suppress. Simon Moya-Smith who is half Oglala Lakota and half Chicano stated, “We are a minority in our own country. How did that happen? It wasn’t just germs.” This storyline of taking and control is nothing new. Revisionist history will claim survival of the fittest. That African- Americans also were in New York at the time as indentured servants. This is true but when your idea of freedom is forced or coerced indentured servitude for life or the possible trade into slavery that is almost certainly death then what was the choice? A life long duty of repaying a debt that you will never get the opportunity to pay off. This seriously sounds like our new jobs of repaying Sallie Mae and student loans in the name of freedom. We pay with our lives and our financial freedoms with the hope that society will repay our hard work so that our families may eat in the kitchen. When will we be not ashamed and be accepted as beautiful?
This is the fourth that we celebrate? I do not bash those that will. I just wish that we would take time to realize that these celebrations did not have “us” in mind in during their creation. The irony is ironic. The country fighting for its freedom was enslaving others. This was our birth and our flag that bears the blood of many who died shaping the cotton gin that gave birth to the manufacturing process of cotton, architecture, inventions, fought in wars and served as mothers to the babies of our literal masters. W.E.B Dubois wrote, “The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife — this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He does not wish to Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He wouldn't bleach his Negro blood in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face.”
I do not wish to be anti-American. I love my country and all those who have sacrificed for it. There are few countries on this Earth that could be half as great- the problem is we are not what we could be because we refuse to acknowledge the failure to heal wounds. We create illusions of celebrated freedom. Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States of America. On June 19th, 1865 officially marked the end of slavery in America and the start of a celebrated freedom for the Negro. This is 150 years ago from our year 2015. Less than two life cycles, Negroes, African- Americans, Blacks, and people of color were finally deemed free. This is 89 years after 1776. Eighty-nine years after celebrating America’s independence the slaves that were helping build the country were given the right to walk without being shackled. After hundreds of years of slavery, we were offered the opportunity to forget the torture, the lost lives, the broken families, forgotten languages, forgotten heritage, religions to assimilate into good ole America. After all, this is the land of milk and honey. So kill the cow and steal the bee, it is the American way. Take the products of the two and brand them as your creations. When you are done throw a party and call it the Fourth of July.
Fact is I am no longer African enough to be home in Africa and not American enough to believe that this is all I am ever supposed to be. I struggle with enjoying the freedom of 2015 to cut on lights and water. The luxury of public education and toilets; however, it is the supposed freedom that bothers me most. We have new chains now. Some are even worse than the ones we could visibly see. We are shackled to higher interest loans, student loans, distinctive differences in educational and healthy food choices in our neighborhoods, religions that suit pockets instead of souls, and my personal favorite sorrow shaming. The sorrow of my people is great and we grow angry at having our tempers swept under a rug. To be angry and black is a threat. To be angry and any other color is the right to express healthy emotions. Our lynchings are that of a minority of police that use their influence and power to shoot and kill black boys, a legislation that encourages the lock up and extreme prison sentences of people of color and the continued sexist repression of powerful black female voices in academia.
How much must we forgive? How many times must you slap us, then tell us to turn the other cheek and smile? How many churches must burn so that communities can have extra parking lots for shopping malls? How many black lives must be lost? Is it nine? Or is (9 x 9 x 9 x 99999) a better choice to be enough? On this holiday, I will reflect. I will teach my daughter that history has to be read carefully. I will show her a pictures of two elephants. One picture will be of an elephant in Africa that is powerful beyond measure and free lifting trees with trunks. The second picture will be a circus elephant held by a small chain that they have been trained to believe is powerful enough to hold them. I will reiterate that things are not as they seem all the time. Hopefully one day, we may choose a new day to celebrate everyone’s equality and freedom. I propose a new independence day renamed Freedom day. It will represent the day as a collective that we celebrate the beginning of accepting the dark side so that we may choose as a collective to move into a new day and year in an America where minorities are treated with the same spiritual, carnal, and physical laws of our society. The fireworks would be so beautiful on that day. Or so I would like to believe. I mean we have to believe that we are moving forward, right? If not what was all the fighting and wars to be free for?