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July 4th: Celebrating Independence When American Systems Say Differently

It’s July 4 weekend once again, just after probably the largest Juneteenth, Freedom Day acknowledgment, and celebration Black America has ever witnessed. As a people, it seems we are embracing ourselves, our culture, and our rights with even more fervor, and pride than before. Most of us grew up going to see fireworks, or setting them off ourselves; attending cookouts, parades, some type of pageantry involving the National Anthem, and swelling feelings of patriotism.

Underneath the participation, we knew this holiday did not include African-American freedom  and in many ways still does not embrace or support our complete freedom, but as descendants of the African Diaspora, we upheld the social contract and willingly attended the pageantry, and celebration of the ideals of July 4, even though they are not lived out and realized truths in our community.

Principles of the Republic

Independence Day is founded on the ideals of republicanism – in Latin res publica means a thing of the people or in James Madison’s words, “the science of politics is the science of social happiness” the thought is that a proper republic takes shape when the science of politics is applied to the creation of a rationally designed government.  Liberty – free from oppressive restrictions from an authority because that’s what the rebels were fighting against right? Individual inalienable rights – bestowed on every human being that cannot be ripped away by another human, or government. They transcend politics, and go to the grave with the individual. The sovereignty or rule of the people is another pillar of the republic. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, elected officials are the servants of the will of the people. The founding fathers were done with tyranny, living within the growing constraints of the crown. This fragile new nation would be different. Elected officials as Benjamin Franklin said [were to be] the servants of the people.

Oxymoronic Ideals

The anti-thetical backdrop of the revolution was the established system of slavery. One group asserted control and domination over another both groups desperately wanted freedom, but one group’s freedom was deemed more important, more worthy than the other’s. One group got to create, and establish a new republic, the other was flatly denied without their freedom ever crossing the minds of the patriots.

One of the biggest forms of propaganda was the image of the happy slave. Over 80 thousand slaves fled to fight for Britain in hopes of being promised freedom by Lord Dunmore (John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore) to leave their masters and fight with British Loyalists to get their freedom. It wasn’t until Dunmore issued this Proclamation that George Washington agreed to let slaves fight for the colonies, some 5 thousand slaves joined them. Slaves hung in the balance as the human currency in the battle of the gentry versus the crown.

No Difference Between Rebels and Protestors

Colonial America did not look much different than decades of civil rights protests in modern America. The founding fathers were viewed as rebels, angry mobs were a norm, revolts, battles, and declaration of wars against Britain were regular occurrences.  Like what protestors are called today. We as a nation hail and reverence the founding fathers but at the end of the day they were rebels, they were dissenting from the crown. They were establishing a republic free from hereditary class succession, that focused on the will of the people giving states the right to rule. And yet the institution of slavery was the buttress that provided the construction, establishment, and upbuilding of everyday colonial life.

The Revolutionary war was not designed for our freedom.

A slave owner since age 11, by the end of his life George Washington owned 317 slaves through inheritance, and a dower, he was a slave owner for 56 years. He fiddled with the idea of abolishment only because it was bad economics for his plantation. It cost him more to house, clothe and feed the enslaved than he was profiting in harvests.

We Love You 7/4 But…

The pageantry, the festivities, the fireworks, the patriotism – could better be ingested if by now the laws and systems of this land did not continue to leave our illustrious, and precious history of out its books, if it would stop and desist criminalizing Black people, if it would stop creating narratives that make us outliers and death targets for protesting, for rightfully bucking against injustices that continue today.

This notion of keeping us in our place through sophisticated-sounding policies that create disparities in health care, law, and grand jury supported police brutality, overusing police as an ineffective solution in schools, communities where they have no business, skill, training, or patience, proliferating mass incarceration by majoring in harsh sentences for minor misdemeanors are all designed to keep a group in their place. 

In our national anthem penned by Francis Scott Key, a slaveholder, wrote of his eyewitness account of the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812. He condemns the slaves who fought with Britain. Calling them unpatriotic, in the third verse and promised them death, when the rebels themselves declared this war on the monarchy for trade constraints that the colonies wanted disagreed with, and had sights on expanding.

“That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion

A home and a Country should leave us no more?

Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.

Speaks of the British presence on American soil as a pollutant.

No refuge could save the hireling and slave
Speaking of professional British soldiers who fought and slaves who joined them

From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,

Speaking of the slave’s perilous flight to join Britain or their death

And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

This audacity of being labeled as unpatriotic when our people refused to stay in our historical or legal place still exists in America today. As a majority member of this society, “I’m OK to engage in a freedom-seeking behavior” but as an enslaved or free Black persons who have received disproportionate mistreatment, unfairness within corporate ranks, banking, housing, jailing, education, and doing whatever you’re doing while Black you are wrong for revolting.

The founding fathers did not stay in their place, and a fragile America began with just 13 colonies. You did not stay in your place and we are demonized then and now for not staying in ours. This is the colonial double standard whose stench is still wreaking. It’s simple to want simple uncomplicated freedom. That’s what this republic was founded on, we love to celebrate these ideals but, this weekend’s ode to freedom, for us, it’s complicated.

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