What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is a 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 that would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour. Frederick Douglass, “What To The Slave is the Fourth of July? (1852)
In 1852, Frederick Douglass spoke the sentiments that all those who descended from those enslaved in America should cognitively echo. His now famous speech confronts the paradox of those who bear an ancestral testament to America’s original sin celebrating their oppressor’s freedom. Centuries after Douglass’s speech, The Fourth of July continues to orchestrate human behavior, engendering barbecues and family get togethers. For those whose lineage speaks to what America repeats in gesture, The Fourth of July is to remember America but to forget that there ancestor’s were America’s property—to forget that Americans owned their ancestors. The red, white, and blue therefore, becomes the foundation for a selective history.
Yes, Independence Day, an acknowledgment of America’s divorce from Britain, celebrates America; however, what this holiday underscores most is exactly who is American.
July 4th, like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, document American status for Americans. While the DOI and the constitution make it possible for Americans to be American, the Fourth of July celebrates this feat. Specifically, The Fourth of July celebrates the American identity severed from Britain.
For the displaced African in America, the Fourth of July delineates that though there is an “I” in America, there is also a “me.” The “I” correlates to the inclusionary narrative perpetuated by the myth of the American dream, a myth that selective amnesia substantiates. The “I” and “me” appears to include any and all, but there is also a reason why white is central on the flag. Irregardless, of who America comes to house or even accompany in identity politics, the “I” and “me,” consistently aligns with the African adjacent.
There is reason why July 4th is a holiday, and it isn’t because we are all American. It is because this too is a showcase of power where those who aren’t even allowed a fair entry into the race, or their race) are to cheer for its consistent victor. This analogy is perhaps most pertinent in considering the now cliche call to return America back to its indigenous state, or for America to be what it promised to be, is to return to 1776 when America was a free nation, whose espousal to external control did not preclude the enslavement and legal dehumanization of American people. My ancestors, Africans ripped from their mother continent, watched these fireworks from bondage and its various manifestations. As American sang of its independence, my ancestors knew this was not a shared victory. They knew that to celebrate America was to celebrate America, but that this was not to celebrate themselves or their collective.
Yet there would be no victory without the enslaved ancestors of those now compartmentalized by the term “black american.” There would be America without those kidnapped from Africa, stripped of their names, their tongues irretrievably severed. July fourth celebrates the birth of a nation, which form my viewpoint is a convenient lie. America was pulled from womb of Africa, birthed from those kidnapped, whose labor and mistreatment would birth, to borrow a term from the late Zora Neale Hurston, the awful beauty that is America. The abducted’s blue blood turned red birthed the whiteness that continues to oppress the black collective perhaps most diabolical in celebratory fervor.
For clarity, this celebratory fervor does not cast the descendants of the enslaved as victims. Rather, it articulates that we are the victory.
That is what the fourth of July means to the Displaced African in America.
With the spirit of the ancestors and the power of blackness,