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The fallacy of the Fourth: Should Black folks celebrate?

July 4, 2010

The words of Frederick Douglass ring even truer today – read ‘What to the slave is your Fourth of July?’

by Paul Scott

Frederick Douglass - Portrait: Patrick J. McQuade
On July 5, 1852, the great orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass delivered an electrifying speech where he posed what was possibly the most significant question of his time; “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?” He received a thunderous round of applause.

A hundred and twenty some odd years later, July 4, 1976, as a 9-year-old junior militant, I stood defiantly on a picnic table, raised my fork and posed a similar question. Why do Black people celebrate Independence Day anyway?”

The response I received?

“Shut up and eat your hot dog!”

The issue of whether African Americans should celebrate the Fourth of July is one of those eternal questions that is often asked this time of year but never receives a valid answer. Why do Black folks feel obligated to dress up in red, white and blue top hats and sing the Star Spangled Banner to commemorate a day when our ancestors were picking tobacco in the hot Carolina sun?

Historians trace the genesis of the problem back to slavery times, when the enslaved Africans were not required to work on some holidays. So as one writer put it, even in 2010, for Black folks, psychologically, we reenact Emancipation Day every weekend and holiday. However, we must never confuse a day off work with historical accuracy.

This may come as a shock for some but Black folks weren’t free in 1776. Matter of fact, it wasn’t until four score and five years later that Abe Lincoln delivered the Emancipation Proclamation.

Also, it must be noted that Black folks gained nothing from America’s victory over the British. Lerone Bennet writes in his book “Before the Mayflower” that a Lord Dunmore, former governor of colonial Virginia, issued a proclamation on Nov. 5, 1775, promising freedom to all male slaves willing to fight for England. This was 86 years before Lincoln “freed” the slaves in states that were rebelling against the Union.

Not to mention that Britain abolished slavery in 1833 and it was not until 30 years later that chattel slavery was abolished in America.

While some may argue that Independence Day is not about slavery but the higher ideals of Freedom, Justice and the Pursuit of Happiness, that is another lie that has been repeated so much that people accept it as religious dogma.

Independence Day – the Fourth of July – certainly didn’t free any slaves. What about Emancipation Day … when scenes like this show people working so hard, the babies tagging along (note the little fellow at the left), and stay so thin? In 1882, Frederick Douglass, who himself had been enslaved, wrote: “Though slavery was abolished, the wrongs of my people were not ended. Though they were slaves, they were not yet quite free. No man can be truly free whose liberty is dependent upon the thoughts, feeling, and actions of others, and who has himself no means in his own hands for guarding, protecting, defending, and maintaining that liberty. Yet the Negro after his emancipation was precisely in this state of destitution. He was free from the individual master but the slave of society. He had neither money, property, nor friends. He was free from the old plantation, but he had nothing but the dusty road under his feet. He was free from the old quarter that once gave him shelter, but a slave to the rains of summer and the frost of winter. He was in a word, literally tuned loose, naked, hungry, and destitute to the open sky.” – Photo: reflectionsbyshirley.com/blog/?p=679
In Eric Williams’ book “Capitalism and Slavery” he states very clearly that the Revolutionary War was based on economics; American sovereignty versus British imperialism. According to Williams, the main source of the conflict was the control of the West Indian sugar and molasses trade. Dr. Ishakamusa Barashango in his work “Afrikan People and European Holidays: A Mental Genocide, Volume II” writes that the American colonists needed the molasses to make rum that was used to exchange for slaves on the West African coast.

So why in 2010 will even the most educated African Americans so vehemently defend their compulsions to celebrate a false holiday?

Part of the problem is the belief that in order to “make it” in American society, Black folks have to “go along to get along.” Unfortunately, many do not have the courage exhibited by the children in the Emperor’s New Clothes fable to tell his royal highness that not only was he butt naked but a slave owner as well, figuratively speaking.

So every year, they put on writer Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s “mask that grins and lies” and sit down at Fourth of July picnic tables, gobbling down as many hot dogs as they can stomach.

What W.E.B. DuBois referred to as a “double consciousness” – having to be both African and American – psychologists would call schizophrenic behavior.

Historically, when we wanted to be part of the American Dream they wouldn’t let us, but when we rejected white America’s ideology they called us “divisive” and “reverse racists.” So the implied threat behind bumper stickers that read “America: Love It or Leave It” is enough to beat most Black folks into psychological submission.

What is also disturbing is the hypocrisy that Independence Day revelers exhibit when addressing the Hip Hop generation.

I find it ironic that the same Black folks who will berate the youth for their justification of using the dreaded “N” word by saying that they are “redefining the meaning to stand for something positive” have no problem redefining history so they can justify setting off firecrackers.

Also, although members of the older generation will criticize rappers for coming up with outlandish “hood tales” just to sell cds, they will rewrite history to give Black folks Independence when they were still picking cotton.

The saddest part of the whole ordeal is the message that we are sending young Black children when we encourage them to celebrate Independence Day. Instead of teaching our children to think critically, we are forcing them to accept a blatantly false version of history without examining the facts. How can we teach them to value education when the foundation of the United States’ educational system is based on a 200-year-old lie that had a holiday formed around it. To teach young Black children to celebrate Independence Day is intellectually criminal.

So go ahead, white America, enjoy your day in the sun. But as a descendant of enslaved Africans, I close with the immortal words of Frederick Douglass:

“This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”

Paul Scott writes for No Warning Shots Fired.com. He can be reached at (919) 451-8283 info@nowarningshotsfired.com. This story first appeared in the Herald Sun of Durham, N.C.

8 thoughts on “The fallacy of the Fourth: Should Black folks celebrate?

  1. DutOne

    A somewhat asinine article on so many levels.

    It's indeed important to remember where you came from, but using a context of 150+ years ago (or even 50 years ago) to justify what one does today is foolish.

    "What to the slave is your Fourth of July?"

    How does this have any bearing on July 4th 2010? Are you a slave? You could have at least tried -no matter how far reaching the comparisons- to apply this to present life in America for blacks.

    You're an American citizen. It is a blessing. Be grateful.

    Reply
    1. AFRIMERICAN

      On what levels (many?) is the article asinine? (Asinine=utterly ridiculous or lacking sense)

      Please explain the levels one by one, and how they apply.

      Are you Black or White.

      If you are Black why denigrate an aspect of Black History that is still very relevant today beecause Black people born in the United States still do not have access to full independence and benefits as Whites, and others, in fact, the immigration issue began under Reagan who gave amnesty to persons South of the U.S. border to displace and replace the Black workforce. Little did they fore see it doing the samee to Whites.

      .

      Reply
    2. AFRIMERICAN

      If you are White, you have exposed your racism in that Whites, not all, but many, feel they have a right and duty to tell Blacks who and what they are, and how to think, which is a slavery mindset and practice of those suffering from latent ideas of White Supremacy.

      Per paragraph two, the relevance of the 150 year old speech, is just as relevant as the Fourth of July itself. How can a people, a nation celebrate Independence that was legally, inhumanely denied a whole race of people that was legally regulated to being non-human, and too never be allowed any rights beyond those of a tool, and later, of an immigrant.

      Now two hundred plus years later, Afrimericans are still treated and regulated to a second, and third class standard, so being an American citizen has it's advantages, but for Black people born in the United States there are still several hurdles of slavery practices still in effect we have to jump everyday just because of skin tone.

      Reply
  2. Beth Veltrop

    What an extremely different perspective on the 4th. One of my ancestors came to America as an indentured servant for being accused of stealing a handkerchief. This is in no way similar to slavery but this article opened my eyes as to why Juneteenth is celebrated as it is over the 4th for African americans. It is as important to them as the passover is to mine. I understand the problems of discrimination and bigotry as I was subject to them as a child. I am white but grew up with a Jewish last name and Episcopalian in the piney woods of east Texas. I applaud anyone who sticks to their ideals and is brave enough to challenge the herd mentality. I love the United States and I am thankful for my freedom that my Jewish grandfather fought so proudly for in WWII. I do say God Bless the USA because I have cousins who died serving in the Israeli army. I didn’t have to grow up a Communist because my family was able to escape to the US. Thank you to the author for sharing a perspective I had never entertained. This is another reason to celebrate the 4th. I have the right to Freedom of Speech.

    Reply
  3. Selina

    Blacks Have NO reason at all to celebrate July 4th because the Holiday was about
    the U.S. that began as 13 colonies own by the Brits so therefore U.S. was celebrating their freedom from the brits, which HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH AFRICANS Living in America.
    ***********************
    During That time when this Holiday became official we weren't even acknowledged by this country constitution as citizens nor HUMAN BEINGS

    Reply
  4. DTOM

    then what is your agenda? why stay if you wont move on and celebrate the country you are now a citizen of?

    Reply
    1. Ant

      Funny how white folks always want blacks to 'move on' from issues of slavery, but for 9/11, 7/4, etc…it's never forget! smdh…

      Reply
  5. Shannon

    Why the hell would black people put 9/11 in the same category is beyond me. Thinking that it was only white people who died that day is pure ignorance! This infuriates me! I believe people should celebrate what they want, when they want. But to throw an AMERICAN tragedy into this bs is sick!!!!

    Reply

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