“Happy Independence Day”
I did not grow up in America with a sense of belonging and freedom. My grandparents were not far from slavery, and my parents and I experienced Jim Crow, segregated America. Life was often challenging as we were people who had a sense of pride and self-worth. So forgive me if I do not celebrate America as a fully enfranchised citizen.
The Rochester Anti-slavery Society asked Frederick Douglass to give a speech on July 5, 1852, to celebrate America’s independence. In the address, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July,” Douglass said, “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.” Then he asked the audience, “Do you mean, citizens, to mock me by asking me to speak today?”
To me, it is mockery today to be greeted with “Happy Fourth of July!” I am the descendant of enslaved people who lived during Douglass’ time. They felt no sense of freedom while laboring under the bondage of slavery. They could only imagine their freedom and pray for it. So how could Douglass enjoy freedom when his brothers and sisters had none? Likewise, I cannot feel entirely free when my voting rights are under assault and many people are disenfranchised.
Frederick Douglass said, “Whether we turn to the declarations of the past or the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to its past, false to its present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future.” I am experiencing that future – Voting Rights.
I never felt American until that cold day in January 2009 when I stood shoulder-to-shoulder in that dense crowd and listened to Barack Obama’s inauguration speech. This January 6, 2021, I gained a deeper appreciation for democracy and the life I have created despite many obstacles. But, as I watched the insurrectionists acting under the guise of patriotism storming the Capitol to destroy democracy and install an autocrat, I felt that all I had come to know was threatened. I became fearful of losing what freedom I had. I thought it was an abomination for the insurrectionists to overtake the seat of American democracy as they did. They desecrated statues and offices, frightened politicians, injured police, caused deaths, and threatened to kill the Vice President.
It was a spectacle to watch, and I feared it would spread throughout the nation as militant groups had already threatened state governments. That rage on the faces of the insurrectionists reminded me of the fear, resentment, and anger I saw during the Civil Rights movement. The crowds that confronted peaceful marchers expressed rage and racial venom that I still find hard to watch.
With what is happening in the country today, racially and politically, I again see fear and uncertainty for what is to come. Fear has motivated politicians to withhold rights from citizens. All people deserve human rights, whether black, people of color, LGBTQ, or immigrants.
America is a work in progress. We must continue to strive toward a “more perfect union.” I feel some sense of hope with the Biden administration since he is trying to unite the country. But still, too many people are at odds with the government and the darkening of its citizenry. And many of them are political leaders.
I will celebrate the gains made in combating COVID-19 with vaccinations, students returning to school, an improving economy, and the fact that once again, democracy prevailed.