I am African American, black, negro, African, mulatto, moreno. Some people – even people who look like me – still call me by the N-word. I am a descendent of slaves.
My African heritage brought me to ask a question many years ago when I was 11 years old and in the fifth grade. I asked my teacher in Social Studies class, “Why do blacks celebrate July 4 if slaves weren’t free in 1776?” I do not remember an answer that satisfied my curious young mind.
So I ask you to help me. Why do you, the descendant of slaves who were not free in 1776, celebrate the freedom from Britain that is celebrated by the ancestors of those who owned your ancestors? Mexicans don’t celebrate Texas Independence Day. Jews don’t celebrate German holidays. Native Americans don’t celebrate Columbus Day. So why are you different? Why do you celebrate July 4?
There are several reasons I don’t celebrate July 4, 1776. First and foremost, people who looked like me were not free until Jan. 1, 1863. It’s illogical for me to celebrate a day on which my ancestors were not free. We still must have our own organizations like the NAACP and the Urban League to fight inequality. Even organizations like Jack and Jill, the Masons and Eastern Stars exist to give us our own networking opportunities.
It’s easy to see that we are not fully integrated into this so-called “land of the free.” Even the richest among us like Oprah Winfrey are treated differently when engaged in the mundane act of simply shopping in a department store.
Other reasons I cannot celebrate the Fourth of July 4 include the refusal of whites to understand that they continue to realize the privilege that their white skin has given them since 1776. Back then, being a landowner gave one special privileges. In fact, some white families still live on land purchased, or given to them, hundreds of years ago where slaves worked the land. If that’s not a continuing advantage, I don’t know what is. Yet, some still own businesses where slaves were used as free labor.
How can I celebrate a day that doesn’t come to terms with these facts and at least give a public apology? I can’t. There is another reason I do not celebrate July 4, 1776.
What would my ancestors who were slaves think and say to me if they knew I was celebrating the date of the freedom and independence that slave-owners were celebrating in 1776? I think this thought every July as the fourth day approaches. I don’t believe the slaves and former slaves would be happy if I celebrated by viewing fireworks, barbecuing with friends or celebrating at all. I think every one of my ancestors would ask me why I was celebrating the freedom and independence day of slave-owners.
Those slaves would also ask me another question: Why I don’t celebrate Jan. 1, 1863, with the same passion that whites celebrate July 4? And that would be the best question they could ask.
Thomas Perry, a Miami resident, is a graduate of the University of the District of Columbia and Texas Southern University. He has written numerous ebooks on real estate and mortgage financing and is currently writing a hardcover edition, Business Financing in Recessionary Times. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org