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Independence for All: Rethinking the Fourth of July Through Black and Brown Lenses

By Tahirih Anthony on July, 3 2024

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"What the people want is very simple. They want an America as good as its promise." - Reflecting on the aspiration for a just and fair society. (Barbara Jordan)  

As the Fourth of July approaches, the nation prepares for its annual celebration of freedom and independence. Fireworks light up the sky, flags wave proudly, and the air is filled with the smell of barbecues and the sound of patriotic music. Yet, for many Black and Brown Americans, this day doesn't always resonate with the same sense of unbridled joy and pride. In the wake of Juneteenth, Pride Month, and a month dedicated to raising awareness about gun violence, it's crucial to reflect on why the Fourth of July might feel bittersweet, or even contradictory, to those whose histories are marked by struggle and systemic inequality. 

Juneteenth, celebrated just a few weeks before the Fourth of July, marks the true liberation of enslaved African Americans. On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, with news of the Emancipation Proclamation, which had been signed two and a half years earlier. Numerous African Americans see Juneteenth as a more authentic Independence Day, symbolizing the delayed but eventual freedom from the bonds of slavery. 

June was also Pride Month, a time to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community and its ongoing struggle for acceptance and rights. Pride is rooted in the courageous resistance of the Stonewall Riots, led by Black and Brown LGBTQ+ individuals who fought against police brutality and discrimination. Like that of the broader civil rights movements, their fight is a testament to marginalized communities' resilience and determination. 

June also highlights the devastating impact of gun violence, particularly in Black and Brown communities. As the nation celebrates its independence with fireworks and festivities, the sounds can eerily mimic the gunshots that too often ring out in neighborhoods across the country. Many, this "war at home" represents a grim reality to the celebratory spirit of the Fourth of July. 

The Fourth of July, by contrast, commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776—a time when freedom was declared for some, but not all. Enslaved Africans remained in bondage, Indigenous peoples faced displacement and violence, and the ideals of liberty and justice were far from universal. The promises of July 4th did not extend to ALL Americans, and this exclusion is deeply felt by those who continue to fight for true equality. The Pledge of Allegiance states, “to the republic for which it stands,” evokes an image of a nation governed by and for its people. Yet, Black and Brown individuals, this republic often stands for exclusion and disenfranchisement. When systemic barriers prevent full participation in democracy, the promise of a government that serves all is betrayed, leaving marginalized voices unheard and unrepresented. 

For Black and Brown LGBTQ+ individuals, the Fourth of July can be a reminder of the intersectional battles they face. Despite the advances made, these communities continue to experience higher rates of violence, discrimination, and exclusion. Celebrating a nation’s independence can feel hollow when that nation still struggles to protect and uplift all its citizens equally. Even during Pride parades, intended to be safe and celebratory spaces, the presence of law enforcement can create discomfort and anxiety for marginalized groups. The NYPD’s visibility at these events often serves as a stark reminder of the historical and ongoing tensions between police and LGBTQ+ communities, particularly for those who are Black and Brown. 

Gun violence is a manifestation of deeper systemic issues, including poverty, lack of access to education and healthcare, and systemic racism. The sense of security and freedom celebrated on Independence Day is overshadowed by the reality of ongoing violence and the constant fight for safe, thriving communities. Let’s be honest: most Black Americans are only patriotic when it’s time for the Olympics. That’s when we wave those flags, cheer the loudest, and suddenly become experts in sports we only watch every four years. It’s like, ‘I may not care about synchronized swimming, but if Team USA is in it, I’m all in! 

We deeply appreciate and applaud all the Black and Brown individuals who have tirelessly worked and bravely served to protect our country. Your contributions are invaluable and your sacrifices, immeasurable. Our recognition of the ongoing struggle for equality and justice does not in any way diminish your service and dedication. As we honor your commitment, we also acknowledge that there is still significant room to grow. The journey towards a nation where everyone’s rights and dignity are fully respected and protected continues, and we remain steadfast in our efforts to achieve this ideal. 

It’s important to recognize that true independence and freedom are ideals we are still striving to achieve. The legacy of slavery, the continued fight for LGBTQ+ rights, and the epidemic of gun violence all remind us that the promise of 1776 remains unfulfilled. 

For Black and Brown Americans, the Fourth of July can be a time of reflection rather than celebration. It’s a moment to acknowledge the progress made, honor the struggles endured, and commit to the ongoing fight for a more just and equitable society. How can we move forward together? To truly celebrate independence, we must work towards a future where the promises of freedom and equality are realized for everyone.   

Educating Ourselves and Others: Understanding our nation's full history, including the experiences of marginalized communities, helps us appreciate the complexity of our independence. 

Advocating for Change: Supporting policies and initiatives that address systemic inequities and promote true equality is essential. This includes gun control measures, anti-racist policies, and protections for LGBTQ+ individuals. 

Building Inclusive Communities: Creating spaces where everyone feels valued and safe and where diverse voices are heard and respected is fundamental to achieving real freedom. 

As we light the fireworks this Fourth of July, let’s remember the struggles and triumphs of those who have fought—and continue to fight—for their rightful place in this nation. Let’s honor their resilience and commit to building a future where independence truly means freedom and justice for all. 

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