When it comes to being Black in America, certain “holidays,” just don’t hit the same. The Fourth of July is one of them. While we all love the fireworks, barbecues, and family gatherings, there’s always this moment (at least for me) where I sit and think, “Where were my people on July 4, 1776?” In chains, suffering, dying, and being abused.
Independence Day is the day North Americans commemorate the Declaration of Independence, a statement that recognized the Thirteen Colonies at war with the Kingdom of Great Britain as thirteen independent sovereign states that were no longer ruled by the British. The European emigrants of those states eventually went on to steal, colonize, and control more of the Native Americans’ land using the backs of slaves. Slavery built what we know today as the United States of America.
The Declaration of Independence stood for unity, independence, and freedom. These are all nouns that didn’t apply to or describe the state of my people. At the time, Black people were the ones literally building the country we are so discarded from today. And much like today, the Black community received no credit for the culture and empire we created. Thankfully, the Black community has somewhat substituted the Fourth for Juneteenth (June 19) as our celebratory independence day. While slavery was legally emancipated on January 1, 1863, it wasn’t until two and a half years later that slaves in Galveston, Texas were freed due to Union soldiers’ resistance. Thus, the Black community was officially freed from physical slavery – kind of.
However, the word freedom does not directly correlate with independence when it comes to being of color in America. And free is far from what the Black, Brown and other communities are. The Fourth nor Juneteenth have provided us with the full privileges and rights that our white counterparts are so gracefully given. The 400-plus years of systematic, educational, social, and financial oppression are still issues we face today.
Let’s also not forget the biggest sign of our lack of freedom is the U.S. prison system that disproportionately incarcerates Black men and women, and uses my community as slave labor to produce some of this country’s most well-known products, which contribute to almost $500 million in sales every year. Those prisoners, unequally my people, make as little as two cents an hour.
The Fourth is merely a mockery of the freedom my people have yet to be bestowed, a perpetuation of a reality we’ve never known. The imprisonment extends to other areas of our lives.
Information and Black media platforms are greatly controlled by conglomerate corporations like Viacom and Charter Communications, giving them the ability to influence our points of view as well as our perceptions of ourselves and our circumstances. And those same corporate jobs that give us the Fourth off wouldn’t dare allow their Black employees to freely speak on our disdain for the “holiday,” for we depend on those jobs to care for our families. Black employment is at least twice as high as the white community, and we are steadily being targeted and killed for doing normal, daily activities. Not to mention, the Fourth is just another capitalistic holiday the American government uses to make billions off that same working-class of Black people.
The tyranny European-Americans fought against from the British only contradicts the idea of freedom those same people ripped away from my people. So while the food and fireworks are fun, my mind can only think of how the Declaration of Independence was signed while my people were in bondage.
In conclusion, I don’t judge anyone for their choice in celebrating the Fourth, but I also won’t shy away from explaining why I don’t. I’ll leave you with a section from Fredrick Douglas’s speech, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” “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.”