Every fourth of July, Black folks pull out their soapboxes and give their best Frederick Douglass impressions.
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 sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, 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. – “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro,” 7/5/1852
Okay. Now, I understand where Douglass and my opinionated Black folks are coming from. In 1776, people of color were very much NOT apart of the American identiry as far as the colonists were concerned. We were their slaves and considered less than human. While the newly independent Americans danced in the streets and pat themselves on the back for a job well done, African slaves and their descendants were breaking their backs to keep the baby country running. It would be almost one hundred years before Blacks were free and even longer before we could touch some of the trappings of real freedom. Trust, I get it. I majored in African & African-American Studies for goodness sake! Some of my best friends are bourgie negroes and no one is more opinionated and militant than bourgie negroes sometimes.
Still, I don’t think we ought to completely ignore the significance of the 4th of July. Think about it, a group of people who, for their entire lives had only known the rule of a monarch, came together under a common goal to fight for what they believed in. A bunch of scrappy, young colonials versus the history and power of His Majesty and they won. It all culminated in the signing of the Declaration of Independence, one of the most significant documents in US history. If that’s not your basic David and Goliath, good versus evil, fight for what you believe in type of allegory than I don’t know what is.
Recognizing the “fantasy” of it all, one can’t deny that the 4th of July and the fight for independence is a romanticized story but it’s the kind that nations and movements are built upon. Sure, the story isn’t ALL good because among the things they were fighting for was the prerogative to continue perpetuating the chattel slavery that brought many of us here AND to keep all of the profits for themselves instead of being bled by the Crown. (If you remember, Britain had at least taken a stand on the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and cut out the taking of Africans from Africa.)
A good story like the Revolution if important to our history. OUR history as a world community and Black community. Other nations have been inspired by American independence like France, for example. When civil rights activists were fighting for equal rights and partiy, they did so based on their claims as Americans and cited many of the same principles the revolutionists clung to back in the 18th century. While his criticism was warranted and justified, even Douglass had to give credit where due,
Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men, too great enough to give frame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory….
So I can’t really clap to all of the “Fuck the Farce of July” stuff floating out there today. If for nothing else, I can’t take folks seriously if they can so easily put aside their principles and conviction for a BBQ, some sparklers and a day off from work.