“This Fourth of July is yours, not mine” are the words spoken by Frederick Douglass, slave abolitionist, author, orator, and one of the few Black heroes American schools actually mention in their white-washed history books.
The Fourth of July is a day of fireworks, enjoying a day off work, and yelling “cooousiiiiiinnnn” at every Black BBQ we can find, hoping to get a plate of food.
The Fourth of July, known officially as “Independence Day”, is also a national holiday dedicated to commemorating the formation of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
But wait a minute! Slavery didn’t officially end in America until December 6, 1865 with the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution (slavery didn’t officially end with the Emancipation Proclamation you know!)….so what exactly are Black people celebrating on this day?
When Frederick Douglass gave his speech to the Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society on July 5, 1865 regarding the celebration of Independence Day, it was in no way to celebrate the British releasing their hold on the American people, but rather to expose the hypocrisy of the “the land of the free”.
But in the year 2016, should this be our way of thinking? Is America as hypocritical in the 21st century as it was in the 19th century? Is America today still the monster it was in Mr. Douglass’s time?
I genuinely believe that if Frederick Douglass were here today, he would be proud to see the accomplishments Black people have made and how we’ve grown as a people, but he would in no way be willing to celebrate this day, nor would he consider the mentality of his people to be significantly more advanced than it was a couple of centuries ago. He would still see slaves, bright and clear as day. He may no longer see the shackles or the plantations, but he can see the mental prison that too many of us have yet to break free from.
I argue with myself constantly as to whether or not Black people have progressed in America since slavery, and a large part of me wants to say that we have due to the fact that we have opportunities and freedoms that our ancestors couldn’t even imagine. But if slavery did not end for the benefit of the enslaved, and slavery continues to rear its ugly head through our judicial and incarceration systems, and when plantation overseers traded their whips in for white sheets and torches, then again for police badges and batons….how much progression can you truly say has been made? How much can you argue on behalf of our Constitution when it only protects us a few crumbs more than it did when Frederick Douglass spoke about it?
That, my friend, is the question.
My intent, however, is not to turn your BBQ sour with my reminders of slavery and the extensive amount damage it has caused the Black community, but rather to caution you on how “just celebrating a holiday” with no knowledge of factual history and self can perpetuate the illusion that we’re living a nation dedicated to liberty and justice for all. With every holiday that masks the true brutal history of America’s formation, that we choose to openly celebrate, we aid in the erasure of not only Black history, but the history of Indigenous peoples, and the true foundation of which America was built on; not justice and liberty for all, but destruction, manipulation, slavery, and genocide.
By Jazmyne Drakeford