Friday, July 4, 2014
Why I don't celebrate Independence Day
There will be no barbeque and fireworks for me.
I don’t celebrate Independence Day.
I both understand and appreciate the importance of the day. It is the birthday of our nation. I say our devoid of hesitation. I love being an American, and believe in baseball, hotdogs and apple pies. Well, I don’t eat hotdogs, but I accept them as part of American culture.
I don’t celebrate Independence Day because doing so would affirm a lie. It is not my Independence Day. I know, that’s old news, but buying into the celebration would deny years of subjugation before the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.
Note that I didn’t use Juneteenth, June 19, 1865, as black Independence Day. Juneteenth is a holiday that commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas. Although it is more appropriate for blacks to celebrate Juneteenth as their date of independence, the mention of freedom from slavery did not equate to true independence until the legislation of laws to protect freedom were imposed in 1964.
It could be argued that black people continue to fight for independence. That is a matter for debate. It is true that many have experienced the promise of the American Dream, while others continue to grapple to overcome the grip of oppression. Some will say the limits of some are the result of personal choices, and that institutional barriers that hinder progress have been eliminated. Again, that’s a debate for another day.
My issue relates to the validity of our claims. Independence Day is not a day of celebration for me. It is a reminder of the hypocrisy of our nation’s history. It shed bright lights on the scandal of our past, and the consequences related to blacks in America. It’s a past that shouldn’t be neglected in our quest to wave flags, eat barbeque and watch fireworks to celebrate our national pride.
As much as I would like to get over it, my love for history won’t allow me to pretend. I can’t let America off the hook by participating in our nations lie. We can imagine a nation ruled historically by the mandates of its constitution. We can fantasize over the contribution of the fathers of the nation, while forgetting they were all white men. We can conceive in our imagination a history of people bonded by an agenda for universal freedom, but all of that is a lie.
That is not who we have been, and for black people to celebrate independence, while trapped in a history of suppression, denies the pain of our past. I can’t claim that history as my own. My ancestors continue to cry from the grave begging me to state the truth regarding the rest of the story. To claim national independence negates the brutality of a system that refuted the humanity of the slaves.
Yes, that is a painful past, but it remains part of our national truth. To expect my participation under the cloak of patriotism is a position rooted in privilege. It strips me of the part that demands to be heard and respected for surviving the journey. It recants the stories of my great-grandparents who endured being slaves. It tarnishes the witness of those who fought for, waited for, and died for authentic independence.
I love America.
I believe in the values expressed in our constitution. I believe that all men, and women, “are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights. That among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. “
I believe in the natural rights of all men and women. I believe those natural rights exits irrespective of race, nationality, religion, gender or sexual orientation. I believe those rights should be respected and affirmed in the face of mental and physical condition, political affiliation or past mistakes.
It is my belief in our constitution that compels me not to celebrate Independence Day. My refusal affirms the rights of those denied, and the independence of those forgotten. My saying no is a yes for those who seek to be protected by the constitution we celebrate on this day. My no obliges us to move past the memory of the words, and apply them in a way that includes those forgotten between the lines of hypocrisy.
I refuse to celebrate because I love the vision of America. I love what we can be if we uphold fully the tenants of our constitution. I love the hope of each word written.
I refuse to celebrate because we’re not there yet, and there is a gruesome past that we sweep under the rug whenever guilt and shame show up to prevent authentic healing.
This is what it means to be created equal.
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
For all men and women.