There aren’t many memorable speeches about the 4th of July. Frederick Douglass made one of the few.
It’s way too long for this space, but this passage is the most essential and timeless part.
What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelly to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.
Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.
Post-racial America ain’t here yet. Just because there’s a Black man in the White House doesn’t mean Black people aren’t still catching hell. One man’s personal triumph isn’t shared by 35 million others.
Freedom isn’t really freedom at all when there are more Black men locked away in prison than graduating from college. There is no justice when Oscar Grant and Sean Bell and Amadou Diallo are dead and buried and their killers walking around breathing fresh air. There is no equality when Black unemployment stands at 16 percent (a number that probably errs on the low side).
At some point we become what we have taught to be. Inferior. Ignorant. Childish. Full of hatred both for ourselves and for others that look like us. We grow to resent how they remind us of how degraded and failed our lives have become. Roll down the streets pass the young brothers hanging out because they have nothing better to do and the young sisters holding babies that will grow up without the love of a father and you sadly realize we have done to ourselves what was once done to us. We have made ourselves the victims. We no longer need the White Man to oppress us. We can do that to ourselves quite nicely.
Today when you hear the firecrackers going off, are you absolutely sure it is firecrackers? Could it be gun shots covering up the screams of another young Black life being taken?
It’s hard to wave the flag and celebrate a freedom that doesn’t really apply to you. Just because there’s no chains around your ankle doesn’t mean you’re still not a slave. Especially if you think and live like one.
I have no feelings of malice toward anyone that celebrates the 4th of July. Understand please, that for me it is only the fourth day of the seventh month and there is nothing worth celebrating about it.
I don’t ever want to stop being angry about what’s wrong in the world. I’ll stop being angry when Independence Day really applies to everyone and not just the ones who can afford to buy freedom and liberty and justice. Until that day comes, I plan on staying angry five seconds more before I draw my last breath.
You know, it’s not the world that was my oppressor, because what the world does to you, if the world does it to you long enough and effectively enough, you begin to do to yourself.
~ James Baldwin