What to Black People is the Fourth of July?
Reflections of Frederick Douglass’ speech and how his words remain relevant today.
“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.” Excerpt from Frederick Douglass’ speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July“ on July 5, 1852
This country has celebrated July 4th as a day of pride and patriotism for all Americans. I’m definitely not averse to attending a fun barbecue, but there's this nagging twitch I can’t shake called “historical facts” that won’t allow me to view this day with the same joy it brought me as a child.
“To be (Black) in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a constant state of rage” — James Baldwin
In the past, it was much easier to go along with the status quo, wear my red, white, and blue outfit, wave my flag, and join the crowds at night to see the spectacular fireworks shows. While my parents educated me on the true history of Black people in this country, they were also very sociable people who enjoyed entertaining and having friends and family over to celebrate just about any occasion.
But as an adult with full knowledge of the condition of my ancestors on that faithful day in 1776, it seems disrespectful to acknowledge this holiday. July 4th did nothing to grant their liberation, nor did it provide them the luxury of pursuing the same American dreams afforded to White citizens and slave owners.
“Fellow-citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are today rendered more…