“This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice must mourn. 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 cruelly 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 denunciations 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. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour” – Frederick Douglas
American Independence Day is approaching and everyone is getting ready for the barbecues, picnics, fireworks, etc. We’re reminded of the day in 1776 when the “Founding Fathers” decided to break away from mother England. The Revolutionary War lasted until 1781 and the Declaration of Independence was made to stand. The mission was accomplished and the United States of America was born.
However, the celebration and freedom was not for all to enjoy. Only rich white males immediately benefitted from independence. Women were still treated unequally, Native-Americans did not regain their lost land, and poor white men did not enjoy all the rights mentioned in the Declaration and accorded by the new constitution. But worst off were the African-Americans, whom the majority was still enslaved. The newly designated “land of the free” had a large portion of its population still in bondage.
Maybe they saw it coming too. Initially, the American forces did not recruit blacks fearing possible slave revolts. It wasn’t until the British started doing it, promising them freedom, that they too followed suit with similar incentives. Unfortunately for these black soldiers, they were deceived. They found out that, in fact, “not all men were created equal” and that the supposed God-given unalienable rights did not apply to them. And as a result, because they lived a life without liberty, they could not pursue happiness.
It took almost another hundred years and a Civil War before slavery was completely abolished in the country. Come to think of it, since the British abolished slavery in their colonies in the 1830s, maybe black Americans would have been “better off” if the Revolutionary War had failed. They would have been officially free sooner.
But the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t end their unequal treatment. Even the “hero” Abraham Lincoln would have allowed slavery in the South to continue if it could have saved the Union somehow. Blacks suffered from discrimination and inequality for another hundred plus years (after the end of slavery). And today, although the times have changed and we even have a black president, the effects of all these years of slavery, discrimination and mistreatment are still felt. We can see a disproportionate number of African-Americans living in poverty (higher %), in higher education (lower %), in higher-paying jobs (lower %), etc.
Therefore, after the hypocrisy and betrayal of the Founding Fathers, the years of slavery, inequality and discrimination, I wouldn’t be surprised if some African-Americans don’t make a big deal out of the 4th of July. And other Americans shouldn’t be upset and accuse them of being unpatriotic if they choose not to celebrate, because if they learn the true history of the country, they would discover that independence and freedom back then did not apply to all.
There are other countries in the Americas where a similar reasoning could apply. Many broke away from their European masters but kept the institution of slavery and other forms of inequalities in place. As a person judging from outside, I believe African-Americans should celebrate this national holiday, but with some reservation. They should always remember the true history behind it and pass it on to their children. As for those who don’t feel like they should celebrate it at all, I don’t blame them.
*Originally published on Examiner.