Another July 4th is upon us. Someone will post on social media Frederick Douglass’ soliloquy “What to the Slave is the Fourth Of July.” Progressive White Americans will pat themselves on the back and feel good about themselves thinking “We have made so much progress since then.” African Americans will conveniently forget about Juneteenth and make the excuse that the holiday weekend is time to celebrate family and a day off, forgetting that Douglass queried, “Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us?”
During the Revolutionary War, enslaved African Americans fought on the side of the British in the name of freedom. Nine years after Douglass’ speech, they would join the Union Army to overthrow the South and end slavery. In both cases, we understood that freedom came at a price, and we were willing to pay it. Reconstruction was freedom, the lover who lover did not stay. The same entity that we snatched freedom from, reclaimed her.
I was born in 1967. Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, Emmitt Till, the four girls killed in the Birmingham church bombing, all had died martyrs before I was born. I was six months old when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. I am of the generation that benefited from the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power Movement, Women’s Lib, Roe v. Wade, and affirmative action. I am a part of the generation that did not have to march with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to share in the dream of equality. I did not participate in the Birmingham bus boycott; the soles on the bottom of my shoes were not worn out from walking miles to get to my place of employment on time. Rosa Parks’ and others’ quiet yet resounding protest in the face of segregation made it possible for me to sit anywhere I wanted on the bus, even it was in the back of it. The late John Lewis marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, not once, but twice, and was severely beaten because he believed that we as African Americans had earned our freedom in this country a thousand-fold. For those stripes we took in the cotton fields of the South, our blood called out for the ballot.
So many of my generation squandered the gift, became the Esau of the Bible. We willingly gave up our birthright for a pot of red stew or privilege. Esau relinquished his because he was hungry and we surrendered ours because we were hungry to belong, to assimilate into a society that never wanted us; a society that once regarded us as property, threefifths human. But we wanted to be perceived as more than that, so we bartered the very soul of what our parents and grandparents marched for, for a bag of hopes and dreams.
Fast forward 60 years since the March on Washington, and almost every advancement that was fought for has been stealthily and methodically whittled away. As the hip-hop group Whodini said years ago, “it was done so sweet it had to be a plan.” A plan that we did not see coming until it was too late. For some reason we relied on the Supreme Court to shield us from the sins of America’s forefathers and their descendants. We relied on that last line of the elders of the Civil Rights Movement to protect us from the not-so-distant past. We wanted to believe that we were evolved as a nation, even though there were glimpses of America at its ugliest always hovering, waiting to catch us off guard. As soon as President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law in 1964, mobilization began to strip us of our vote. Ever since the last food counter was desegregated in the South, there was a plan. Fifty years ago, when the court ruled that a woman had a Constitutional right to make decisions regarding her reproductive health, a plan was formulated.
Now look at America. She is barely recognizable to my generation. The court has been strategically stacked over the years and now groundbreaking decisions are being overturned. Roe v. Wade is gone. Affirmative action is gone. LGBTQIA rights are being legislatively restricted.
Racism and organizations of hate have proliferated and run amuck on Capitol Hill. We have a former president who millions of our fellow Americans love yet who has been impeached twice, indicted twice, taken more than 100 boxes of secret and top-secret documents for some unknown but nefarious reason, and is an adroit liar. Yet somehow, he is walking around free, and running for a second White House term. This is a new territory for my generation. We have never seen this before.
However, my parents and grandparents recognize this America. This is the America of the past, the America that never wanted civil rights legislation, never wanted African Americans to vote, nor break bread with them in the same restaurant. This is the American that does not want young African American men and women in the halls of higher education. This is the America that wants to venerate and honor the murderous genocide plot perpetrated against the Indigenous Peoples and keep the statutes of those murderers in prominent and sacred places. This is the America where the slogan “anti-woke” is the dog whistle that translates to “White Only,” “No Dogs and N***** Allowed,” and “State Rights.”
This is where we are. The future’s past. Or the past’s future. We must survive this. We must tap into history, tap into our elders, and become the elders. We have indeed integrated into a burning house as Dr. King said in 1967. That burning house is America and as her independence is celebrated, we need to think long and hard about what freedom really means and what it looks like for us. July 4th is the celebration of snatching freedom, not waiting for freedom to be gifted, and as the fireworks explode, let that be the signal of our fight for freedom from the tyranny and authoritarianism of what America is devolving into. Future generations depend on how we act in this hour.