• Tsion Tessema

Why I Did Not Celebrate the Fourth of July

Updated: Dec 12, 2020

In the past, I spent the Fourth of July in anticipation for the clock to strike 6:00 pm, so that my family, friends, and I could continue our long-standing tradition of driving down to the Washington Monument. Once we arrive, we typically stare in awe at the annual firework display surrounding the obelisk with an ice cream cone in hand.

This year was different, despite the obvious reasons, such as COVID-19. Before, I could celebrate the holiday ignorant of its truth, but now I could not in good conscience take pride in a holiday rooted in hypocrisy.

In school, I learned that on the Fourth, we celebrate the birth of our freed nation and our independence from a former, oppressive government. However, I now realize whose freedom we are truly celebrating. That is the freedom of white American males. What is there for me to celebrate on the Fourth? Nothing. The holiday excludes women and BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color) who at the time were enslaved and not given the right to vote.

America has extended this exclusion of rights from its founding to its discriminatory laws and policies. Our nation has always been selective when choosing who is entitled to certain liberties. How can we refer to ourselves as “the land of the free,” when people still refuse to acknowledge slavery, systematic racism, Black Lives Matter, sexism and the gender pay gap, islamophobia, xenophobia, homophobia, the treatment of indigenous peoples, and ICE placing families in cages?

In order to progress towards our self-proclaimed title, we must address and correct our nation’s historical abuse, which continues to hinder freedom and liberty today. We must truly represent “the land of the free,” not only in title, but also in actions and laws.

As a woman of color, celebrating the Fourth of July is analogous to a Native American commemorating Christopher Columbus, or a black woman recognizing the 19th Amendment. Christopher Columbus “discovered” an America which already existed, an America which was home to the Native Americans, whom he massacred, pillaged, and raped. Furthermore, on August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment legalized the right to vote for white women. Forty-five years later, African American women acquired the same right after combating obstacles of both gender and race.

From these two examples, one could understand how nonsensical it is to celebrate a “victory,” which does not pertain to one’s success, benefit, or freedom. Now, if I had been alive on July 4, 1776, could you imagine me expressing my joy, freedom, and newly found independence? Well, I can assure you that these liberties would not have been extended to me.

This sentiment was also shared by abolitionist and renowned orator Frederick Douglass in his speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” Eleven years before the Emancipation Proclamation, Douglass delivered this speech on July 5, 1852, at the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society:

“What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? 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 sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, 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 these United States, at this very hour.”

American independence benefited white men, not the slaves they owned and abused, or their silenced, demure wives. Hypocritically, Americans rejoiced in their independence and freedom, and then proceeded to oppress and dehumanize slaves for over two centuries and then enforced Jim Crow laws until 1965. And to this day, we still fight to have the same privileges and freedoms as white American males and are continuously denied.

I will not celebrate an America that treats Black Lives Matter like a political issue, nor will I celebrate an America that refuses to arrest Breonna Taylor’s murderers. The Fourth of July does not celebrate the independence of all, and this nation has yet to earn the title of “the land of the free.”