Independence Day for African Americans
There was a lot of chatter in the blogosphere over the past few days with respect to what July 4 does (and should) signify, particularly for people of color, as we celebrated the first Independence Day with a Black president.
Many folks tweeted or posted links to Frederick Douglass's famous speech titled "The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro." In this address, Douglass tries to explain what it is like to see celebration of ideals that have not been realized. He says:
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.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.He begins (and ends) the speech, however, with optimism:
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 Ñ 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.Francesca Biller-Safran situated the holiday in a contemporary context, noting that "for many Blacks who have felt ambivalence, separatism and exclusion; this will be a Fourth of July like no other."
Rikyrah, of Jack and Jill Politics, reminds us that to suggest that Black folk have not been patriotic prior to this momentous time in our history is offensive and misguided. For it is easy to love that which loves you back; loving a nation that has treated you and people like you with disdain, disrespect and deceit is a true sign of dedication.
Indeed, several articles and posts over the weekend attempted to call our attention the difference between nationalism ("my country, right or wrong") and patriotism. Byron Williams notes that patriotism is about celebrating the ideals of a country and Mike Lux argues that the folks whose ideas we celebrate on this day (Thomas Jefferson and his buddies) were radicals and leftists fighting against forces that wished to impede progress. They certainly had their own hangups and were bound by their cultural context, but the ideas for which they fought are the same ideas that many progressives are fighting for today.
This is particularly true with respect to racial progress. THIS WEEK, Barack Obama read for his (sorta creepy) animatronic likeness in Disney World's famous Hall of Presidents. (You can watch the behind-the-scenes video by clicking here or watching below.) It gives one a real sense of the history of his election to consider the power of his likeness on that grand stage alongside all the White men who led this nation through the first 220 years.
Thinking about this moment and reading Frederick Douglass's words prompts one to think about how much has truly changed in the past 150 years, as well as how much work we still have to do.
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