Why so many people are no longer celebrating July the 4th and other patriotic holidays.
Written By: Tomila Sahbaei @tomilamichelles
Although meeting with friends and family to bond over drinks and burgers, all while decked out in red, white, and blue sounds like textbook American fun, for years many have taken a step back from Independence day celebrations to critically question what they are truly celebrating.
This way of critically thinking of the holiday is not new, as Frederick Douglass’ monumental speech What to the Slave is the Fourth of July was delivered on July 5th, 1852.
Douglass used his voice to call out the hypocrisy of the holiday, wherein America claimed themselves as this figure of independence and freedom, but the reality was they were actively participating in one of the grossest forms of human rights violations; slavery.
In fact, when the fourth of July was established as a national holiday in 1776, Black Americans were still subject to practises of slavery. As Arielle Gray points out in an interview with BBC, “for Black Americans that story of independence is inaccurate,” as Black Americans were not freed from slavery for another 89 years.
Many will make the argument that Douglass’ speech on injustice is outdated, Quintez Brown, in the same interview as Gray, references Douglass’ speech but in terms of modern injustices.
“Frederick Douglass asked ‘What is the Fourth of July to a slave?’ and today I ask ‘what’s the Fourth of July to a prisoner?... to Breonna Taylor?… to Trayvon martin?”
Ava DuVerney explores modern day slavery in her film 13th, critiquing America’s prison-industrial complex for it’s racialization of crime. As the film explains, what this means is that America has had a history of perpetuating the stereotype of Black people and other minorities as criminals, a history still visible today, making it more likely for them to be arrested and criminalized than white Americans. Furthermore the film explores the allocation of prisoners for labour (used by companies like Victoria’s Secret in the past) and how this form of labour is modern-day slavery in disguise. And all of this is grounded in the very constitution Americans take to the streets to celebrate, as the 13th amendment abolished slavery unless it was used as “a punishment for crime.” Slavery is now hidden with this label of criminal, yet another term DuVerney’s film criticizes.
So maybe instead of opting for Instagram photos and barbeques, citizens may choose to instead educate themselves on this day and explore the perpetual injustices occurring in their country.
James Baldwin himself, in Notes of a Native Son said: “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
One of the common misconceptions is that people who choose not to celebrate the Fourth do not love America, and while this may be the case for some individuals, it may also be that the individual instead wants to see the country do better, and they are doing the work for it.
Additionally, there are other celebrations that are founded on the true meaning of independence and freedom. This past June, Juneteenth, was celebrated globally this year.
Juneteenth celebrates the emancipation of Black Americans from slavery, wherein the last group of slaves, in Galveston, Texas were informed that they were now freed. Emancipation was passed on Jan 1, 1863, however it took until June 19th, 1865 for the slaves in Galveston to hear word of this.
Arguably, Juneteenth is a celebration truer to this idea of independence, because the celebration does not land on the day emancipation legislation passed, but really, the day all slaves heard word of their freedom. This is also why other names for Juneteenth include Freedom Day, Emancipation Day and even Independence Day, as people in agreement with Juneteenth reclaim the holiday for their own.
And just as Juneteenth made a worldwide impact, the decline of celebrating traditional national holidays did the same. One example being in Canada, wherein Canada Day is marked as July 1st. This year however, twitter users witnessed the hashtag #cancelcanadaday trending instead as the people attended protests fighting for Indigenous Rights (organized by theIdle No More movement), and other global issues of Black Lives Matter, andIsrael’s annexation of Palestine’s West Bank territories.