Independence Day: An introspection for the significance of the 4th of July and what it really represents
By: Nicole Lashomb*/Editor-in-Chief—
As the July 4 federal holiday passed, and patriotic hymns echoed across the country, I found myself examining my own past, my present thoughts (racism, #BlackLivesMatter, Indigenous people’s rights, Trans rights, women rights, etc.), and the future I want to see as it relates to “independence” and all that it should represent. Growing up and the privilege I had, the 4th of July meant a time to gather with friends and family, a time for BBQs in the backyard, or going to camp along a beautiful crystal clear river. It was rural white America, an America I had grown all too accustomed to and an America that I foolishly believed belong to us all. It was years later, in my young adulthood, when I realized that there was only independence for a select few, the same few that are ancestors of colonizers that slaughtered the Natives Americans and enslaved black people around the world, regardless of what we tell ourselves as white folks. The truth is, the U.S. was found based on a dark past, a very dark past, that even centuries later, we have not been able to break away from its binding chains.
The COVID-19 pandemic that we’re all experiencing with no leadership from the federal branches of government, only adds to the chaos that we’ve lived for decades where some of us are free and others are not. Brutality is a cold hard fact of what has occurred since this nation was colonized. Marginalized groups are still being brutalized by society, by police, by bureaucracy, by institutional racism, and by our own neighbors—specific targets are Black and Brown people along with other people of color. Add to that our vast intersectionalities with some of us of being women and having healthcare rights being stripped away by the Supreme Court who recently ruled in favor of employers being able to deny birth control. Then consider sexual orientation and gender identity, compounded white supremacy running rampant. I ask legitimately, who is free? Who truly has independence? In nearby Lynn, Mass., 37 percent of the population is white, yet they hold most (if not all) of the power. And, who is making all of these “rules” in the first place? I know the answer to that today. I didn’t then.
When there have been times of great duress in the recent past and, admittedly, it is nothing like what we are visibly experiencing now, I’ve “turned it off.” My white privilege and fragility took a hold of me because I was able to turn away from it all then. It is easy to turn it off when you’re not brutalized, when you’re not the target, when you’re not afraid of being killed by police officers. I refuse to turn it off now. People that are the most persecuted in this country, including those in the non-mainstream LGBTQ+ community, with its vast racial and ethnic intersectionalities, don’t get to “turn it off.” Everyday, it is lived.
Every day, lives are taken and everyday, white folks have an obligation to learn and do better, especially to dismantle the systemic oppression as it relates to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity. I didn’t know it at the time, but that very act of turning away because it was just “too much anxiety” for me to process is the very definition of white privilege and the fragility that exists within it. When others are suffering endlessly at the hands of a government that is supposed to be protecting us all, the fact that some are celebrating “independence” makes them grossly unaware of the trials, burdens, and torture that so many native people and black Americans have lived under and continue to do so.
“On July 5, 1852, Frederick Douglass gave a speech at an event commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence, held at Rochester’s Corinthian Hall,” according to PBS.
“ … ‘This Fourth of July is yours, not mine,” Douglass said to the audience. “You may rejoice, I must mourn … Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today?”
“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?” Douglass continued. “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 sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, 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.”
*Nicole Lashomb is Editor-in-Chief of The Rainbow Times and Co-ED of Project Out. She obtained her BM from the esteemed Crane School of Music and an MBA from Marylhurst University. She can be reached by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.