When I was young, I thought my maternal grandfather was the coolest old man on the planet. Always giving my siblings and I hugs, bragging to other people about our accomplishments and most important, handing out handfuls of money every visit. Grandpa could do no wrong.
He was the greatest, that is, until I learned the truth about him (sorry, but the details of this particular story are personal and private. Let’s just say that’s when our relationship changed. Come to think of it, I don’t think I said 100 words to him from that point until the day he died, years later. And no, I don’t feel bad about it.).
That’s how I and a lot of people of color feel about many of America’s longstanding tributes, monuments and holidays, from Christopher Columbus to the confederate flag to the Fourth Of July aka Independence Day.
But what astonishes me is not the fact that many of these startling revelations and truths are finally becoming widely and commonly known. It’s the fact that many Americans, NOT affected by our ugly history or its residual effects, can’t accept the fact that we as minorities are no longer ok with it. In fact, we never were.
So what happens when we peacefully speak out against it?:
- We’re too sensitive about the movies, books and tv shows of yesteryear.
- We’re told that even though WE’RE the ones catching it day in – day out, ALL lives matter.
- We’re too caught up in historical events that they didn’t have anything to do with (like slavery). We need to let that go.
- We need to stop whining because we have no excuse for not having all of the things that they have, from job opportunities, to education, to property and wealth.
I’m going to reserve my comments on those four bulleted items for another post.
Suffice it to say that those who don’t belong to a race or community who was directly impacted by slavery or the effects that have trickled down as a result, will never truly see it as I do. As WE do. And no, I’m not blaming them for that. It is what it is. But it does bring something to mind…
One of the first phrases I ever memorized was back in kindergarten: Thou shalt not criticize thy neighbor until thou hath walked a mile in his moccasins.
So yeah, I understand that you can’t relate or empathize. The problem is, you don’t even SYMPATHIZE.
Now here we are, commemorating July 4th, which I was taught as a child to celebrate with much enthusiasm and jubilation. And I did for decades. I couldn’t wait to watch/march in the parades, attend the festivals, eat the cookout food, take the day off from work and today, watch the fireworks with my kids, as I did with my parents.
But now I know that July 4th was never for me or mine. A good reminder was the day my predominately minority high school band marched in a July 4th parade in Whiting, Indiana. Nothing like hearing an inimical crowd of people shout epithets like “niggers” and “spics” while you march, powerless and unprotected down their main streets. In Jr. High (Hobart, Indiana), people threw batteries and other small objects at us during the parade.
Meanwhile, all lives matter.
No, July 4 was not meant for us.
What I CAN tell you, with much certainty, is that few, if any, slaves celebrated a day that yielded no positive change for them or their families. Especially when none of them knew that it would take a good century for them to finally be set free. Correction, their children’s children to be set free.
Am I condemning the holiday? Absolutely not. Not at all. As an American, born and raised here, I’m happy to know that we won our independence. It’s because of that that I live in a nation that exists in its current economic and technological state.
But the holiday’s significance has diminished incredibly with me.
I couldn’t understand, as a child, why my history books and teachers taught me that some slaves actually fought on the side of the British. Those TRAITORS!!!! How could Americans DO that? Not ONE of those books told me that they were fighting for their freedom. Not one of those books talked about the Letter of Manumission, promised by the British to those who fought on their side. Not that it would have been recognized in the states anyway – only in England, supposedly.
England. A country not known for its love of Black folk either.
You know, the only person of color I DO remember when it comes to the Revolutionary War is Crispus Attucks, regarded as the first person killed at the Boston Massacre, which started it all. And I learned that from a series of African American historical comic books that my father bought me.
Ultimately, the United States was granted its freedom and independence.
But as I mentioned earlier, that did NOT apply to my ancestors. Slavery continued. They needed us to build this “great nation” of ours. Wage-free, of course. They wanted to keep us in servitude so badly that a separate, internal war was fought between the North and the South just to preserve their right to keep slavery as it was. They even shot the man that gave us our freedom in the back of his head.
But look, I’m not angry about the holiday. It’s as important to our nation as an Independence Day is for any other country who fought for and established its own independence.
I just don’t see it like I used to. Accept it.
I, along with millions of others, have gravitated towards our own day of independence, now formally known as Juneteenth, commemorating our emancipation. And even that new holiday is bittersweet because certain laws and rights have yet to be passed or granted to change things to make us equal or comfortably safe from white supremacists, hate crimes, abusive law enforcement and the criminal justice system as a whole. Consequently, we’re still trying to decide just how we want to celebrate it.
In conclusion, please don’t expect cultures to sing the praises of a country that has done very little to reciprocate that love. People like the Blacks, the Latinos, the Asians, the “Indians” (who lived here first, mind you).
And don’t be so quick to judge or condemn a culture for creating and celebrating a holiday specific to them, especially when it’s their own equivalent to the one you so proudly cherish.
It’s not divisive. It’s not rebellious. It’s not un-American.
It’s humane. It’s only fair. It’s the right thing to do…
…and it’s long overdue.
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