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The Fourth of July and the Modern Black Experience

Disclaimer: Before we get to it, let me be clear: I fully understand and appreciate the actuality that systemic and institutional White supremacy exist. That it is unfortunately, foundational in American society and history and has had a measurable negative affect that continues in modern America. And this most often affects African Americans most detrimentally because the social designations of Whiteness and Blackness were created with the sole purpose of forwarding the trans-Atlantic slave trade and chattel slavery in the United States. Now, that being said…

“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.”[1]

Every 4th of July, there is a debate amongst Black people / African Americans regarding if we should in fact be celebrating Independence Day; since our African Ancestors were for the most part, slaves in the United States at that time. On social media, people go back and forth quoting Fredrick Douglas and invoking the memory of the oppression and suffering our ancestors endured not just under slavery, but with black codes and Jim Crow laws that lasted on paper in many places up until the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and in some areas if not by law by custom in up until the late 80s. However; regardless if people want to admit it or not, 2019 is NOT 1852.

The fact is very simple to apprehend, if people get out of our emotions and take the time to see how far we have come. This is not to say that we don’t have further to go, but to truly know how far you have left to go on any road, you must measure and understand how far you have come. However; there are people vested in keep Black people in the mindset that we are fighting the same fight that Fredrick Douglas was; and simply, we are not.

Of course, we should not allow people to make us forget the horrors that were done to our ancestors or the ones done to our parents and grandparents in a Jim Crow world. Nor are we to ignore the current injustices that occur due to the systems and institutions that support our society which continue to function with structural racial biases predicated on the cultural belief in America of White superiority and by mutual implication Black inferiority. However; we should not remain frozen in time, trying to wear the suffering of our ancestors as if it is our own. Not making the distinctions of the personal agency that slaves like Fredrick Douglas did not have, that we do have because of the fight of people like Fredrick Douglas. Yes, we can acknowledge where we are and how far we have come; but we also need to acknowledge the work that we as a people need to do to honor the sacrifice and strength of our ancestors like Fredrick Douglas. Yet, at the same time we can acknowledge the systemic and institutional issues that still affect us as a group; regardless of our individual success.

Now, the modern reality of Black people in America, is that people like Fredrick Douglas fought for us, their children, to be able to be citizens of this country. And on July 2nd, 1964, almost 100 years after the end of the Civil War, we did. So, are we to celebrate the Independence of the country from the British Crown because our equality took almost 200 years later to become an actuality? I would say we can and should. That does not mean that we do not celebrate the liberation of our ancestors on Juneteenth or the legal equality that we accomplished after the Civil Rights Movement. African Americans have fought in every war this country has had, given our blood in more ways than one for this country to exist; if anyone should be able to own that, it is us.


[1] Fredrick Douglas, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” 'What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?': The History of Frederick Douglass' Searing Independence Day Oration,TIME.Com accessed July 5th, 2019,

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