What is July 4th to me? (I know it's early but it's been on my mind.) The day once had very significant meaning. It was a day which hallowed the words that sounded like thunder across the Atlantic shaking the very throne room of a British monarch. The day made almost holy this a very significant and profound realization, each human being is created free, having his or her freedom come from the throne of heaven and not of man.
It is a day which for over two centuries has been celebrated in some odd schizophrenia. As the nation fought war concerning slavery, debated women’s suffrage, enacted prohibition, participated in imperialism, Civil Rights, marriage equality, while offering freedom abroad, but wrestling with it at home, America celebrated…freedom. America celebrates an idea. It celebrates this idea every year under a flag, in the aroma of barbecue, and the explosions of fireworks.
But in all honesty, does this date actually hold significance anymore? It only took an economic crisis in the middle of the twentieth century for the great expansion of government into the lives of Americans. America had only a generation earlier agonized in war and blood, slavery would no longer be the character of the nation. Yes, in the midst of slavery, independence was celebrated. As America declared in war it would no longer control the lives and labor of Black bodies, half a century later she would choose to throw the yoke upon all her citizens.
What did America do? It continued to celebrate independence.
A generation later a powerful and prophetic preacher of the South loved America and the country was once again forced to reconcile its birthday theme of freedom. He had to remind America regardless of the color of her citizen’s skin, all men and women were created equal. These Black bodies and White bodies were endowed by their Creator with the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
How did America respond?
America met the cries and protests of Black voices with simply more government. Greater control in the economic, education, and social lives of Black men and women. In the midst of our great city centers, public housing locked the door on fathers. Welfare limited economic opportunities. Soon another war, a drug war, would commence on Black streets taking away more young Black males, orphaning children, and creating what would see as the “New Jim Crow.” Even in the midst of such burdens, Black Americans have found a way.
We stand on the precipice of celebrating another birthday about freedom and I don’t get that celebration anymore. The freedom seized two hundred and forty years ago just seems like a story from Lord of the Rings. The days of dancing in the shire and the beauty of Gondor are just memories. The last few months of 2020 have demonstrated to me our nation is not concerned about freedom anymore. It would appear our nation’s citizenry prefer the security and dictation of government instead of the vigor and surprise of freedom. We as a nation are becoming content with shaming our neighbors, surveilling our neighbors, and if need be, securing our neighbors. But I just believe we are better than this.
I hate to invoke this word…but it is simply a growing form of slavery. Slavery has taken many forms throughout world history. It is not the slavery experienced by my ancestors with its physical, emotional, and sexual dehumanization. It is a slavery which is subtle. Subtle because it is masked in compassion and the pervasive idea the vision of American life by a few is better for everyone. Thus we must conform. We must work more hours and produce less income. We are told we are not as knowledgeable about the decisions of our own lives so others must make the decisions for our lives. All under the guise of the public good, compassion, and prosperity; to do otherwise will result in punishment.
So what is the point of celebrating this coming celebration and remembrance of independence and freedom? Frederick Douglass said,
“This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, is inhuman mockery. Above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, today, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. My subject, then fellow-citizens, is AMERICAN SLAVERY”
(Frederick Douglass, What to the Slave is the Fourth of July, 1852)
Echoing the words of this great abolitionist, this celebration is no longer mine. We are going to dance under the explosions of fire works while in chains. This time, slavery knows no ethnicity. The American slavery which has a few people determine our income, our education, our health, our leisure, our relationships, and where we live, has no problem seeing us fight one another. As long as we continue to fight one another, these few will continue to live on the strength of our beautiful lives, productive labor, and the little we do own.
So I pray for a future abolition. An abolition that will cause us to no longer be bound to the vision of a few. I look forward to an abolition which will have people no longer live in fear of one another but we will have the courage to stand like Jefferson, Douglass, and King. Men who had faults but recognized human beings were not meant to be ruled by one, enslaved by a few, or a government disenfranchise a group of Americans. Men and women-YOU-who had the courage to seize the blessings of liberty. When will our voices sound like thunder in the marble halls of this government?
It is my hope there will be a new abolition. A new abolition which will necessitate a new birthday of freedom.
Can we plan for the party?