Today a couple of people here in Mauritius wished me a Happy Fourth of July.I realize they meant no harm.But as an African American I don’t celebrate the 4th except to take advantage of some barbecue chicken and sweet lemonade if nearby and offered. The Fourth for me is just another work day.Or if falling on a Sunday like today, just another day to reflectively craft Faith and Justice Sunday Conversations.
As an African American expatriate, I am often the object or subject of criticism about American imperialism and other historically predominantly White American government domestic and international injustices by those who view the States and indeed the West in oversimplified homogeneous reified terms presuming all of us are from the same side of the street. I have to remind them of the need for perspective when addressing their criticisms of America and my fellow American citizens to me.
I am a proud patriotic American though from the other side of the street. My diverse ancestors came over from Africa in chains against their will as well as were indigenous peoples in North America whose centuries long lands were torn from them and were by and large internally colonized when not exterminated. No one in my bloodline came over on the Mayflower or had a say in the writing of the U.S. Constitution or had a seat in the 1776 Constitutional Convention. We Black folks in the prose of the Constitution are viewed as partial property not as human beings; a point that even African American originalist Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas and Supreme Court Associate Justice Amy Barrett with her adopted Black kids just don’t get.
My ancestors and the dehumanized populations and communities from which they originated fought and shed blood in virtually every internal and international war since colonial times only to have their rights and heroic deeds ignored and rarely acknowledged and apologized for years later. My maternal grandfather was gassed in World War I and with his entire extended family was horribly victimized in the barely nationally recognized 1919 Elaine,Arkansas Massacre as a sadistic welcome back home which viciously forced them to leave and resettle north in Rochester, New York,with him becoming a deeply troubled drifter for much of the rest of his life. So no, I don’t celebrate this day.
In 2008 while celebrating the US Presidential election returns,my liberal White male colleagues gloated over email about the election of Senator Barack Obama as the first Black President of the United States as if he had to have their permission to rise,I silently wept for my dementia ridden Dad.Dad, who could not vote in 2008 for Obama was a World War II veteran who never made it too far in military and in civilian life who died a year later after Obama was elected .He was so disappointed in himself due to how insidious racism deprived him of deserved adult manhood; a life story he persistently said to me as his growing up son hoping such denial of dignity would not happen to me.
So no, in memory of my humanity denied father whose father whose name I proudly inherited had to in 1926 flee for his life from Mississippi to Rome, New York due to refusing to give a White neighbor his hog and for the sake of my 97 year old Mom whose mother as more than likely tormented 18 year old who lived to be 100 never mentioning the terror she fled from brought,brought her up from Elaine to Rochester,New York as an infant from that mass killing horror. So no I don’t celebrate this Independence Day for a nation still in need of repentance , human restoration,and reparations for the deep structural and emotional evil done though denied or too cosmetically recognized to millions of Indigenous African, Asian, and Latino American citizens .So no I won’t celebrate today.
To be African American like any other Non-White citizen no matter how deep your roots are, since you are not White, your citizenship always has a big question mark behind it because in America being a citizen like celebrating the Fourth is in the national culture for White folks only. It is why both at home and abroad , it is not unusual for me to be asked what country I am from or when I say I am African American to be asked when did I immigrate to the States. Be it being of Indigenous,African, Asian, or Latino descent you are always suspect of not being American in every day life.It is the reason why Trump while President and the right wing as well as innocent naive progressive Americans asking awkward inappropriate questions have been so effective in insulting Non-White American citizens in creating the impression that we are all suspect of not being real citizens or if so, we just arrived. Remember the questioning of President Obama’s ancestry by Trump and others?
And need I add the all White myth of American citizenship is an imperialistic , colonial, and Cold War construct distributed historically abroad by a lilly-white State Department, diplomatic corps, and corporate business and media establishment ?This spells ambiguity, surprise, stares , and confusion when you are a Non-White American citizen living abroad since you are not White and thus can be viewed by foreigners as being less than American with unpleasant consequences. Or among more enlightened foreigners who understand the plural histories of insidious racism in America, being a Non-White American can be a great advantage unless you are subjected to stereotypes such as assuming that because you are Black you must be an activist if not a radical for justice and must know all the Black movies, preachers, songs and we all can sing and dance too and of course we all came from poor crime infested urban ghettos or super rich American families.
So why should I celebrate a day of independence when Americans who come from my side of the street are far from free and daily vulnerable to police brutality and daily slights such as being the CEO being presumed to be the waitress in the cocktail party even while wearing your blue power suit or insulted by a 5 or 20 year old insisting on calling you by your first name though he or she could be your grandson or granddaughter? Why should I consume my bar b que washed down with sweet lemonade today in Independence Day celebration when America remains a land disproportionately deeply divided racially when it comes to who tends to be the most unhealthy, the most unemployed, the most incarcerated,and the most uneducated with the most crime ridden drug infested streets while governments and civil society institutions of all levels seem impotent about what to do more than a minute little without being ” controversial or socialist”while knowing what to do like a knee jerk reaction when it comes to generously subsidizing the disproportionately White rural and urban classes? So, no, I don’t celebrate this day.
We are a little better off since Frederick Douglass 1852 Fourth Speech every person at home or globally concerned about transparency about American hypocrisy about who is really free and who is really still a slave should read. Just a little better off but not much when you view the eggs we must walk on when addressing insidious racism in American institutions and public culture still requiring African Americans and other Non-Whites who wish to make it, to deny who they really are and to water down or evade or deny needed difficult conversations and authentic structural, political, and economic transformations. I was reminded of this just the other day as old as I am when a White male American university administrator around my age felt comfortable enough in his racist arrogance to deny me a contract using the most blatant racist tactics as if I was some stupid teenager or his stooping butler.So as much as there is all this post-George Floyd protest and Joe Biden talk about racial justice don’t mistake the smoke for the fire.This is still very much America and will remain so if we continue to care more about the treatment and quality of food standards for our dogs and cats than the humanity of all American citizens no matter who we are or how we got here, the color of our skins, and the accents in our voices. Until then, no, I will not celebrate this day since too many of us are not free, are dependent rather than independent not always due to our actions but due to the oligarchal and hegemonic racial and gendered hierarchies designed and instutionalized to assure most of us who on this side of the street remain pushed and pressed down, excluded , and at best have marginalized opportunities for decent mobility and quality of life.
So it remains delusional, indeed , unethical ,for me to celebrate the independence of a nation which still chains people on my side of the street, lynches people on my side of the street , impoverishes people on my side of the street , and tosses crumbs at people on my side of the street at will with expectations we should grin and be thankful.When all of us are really free and are all given the respect all citizens deserve to have and then and only then will I celebrate.
That I don’t celebrate the Fourth is not out of anger or unforgiveness. It is actually quite the opposite.It comes from the perspective that I understand my beloved country with its warts and paradoxes and try from my obscure corner in the universe to assist in the birth of a more equitable American future which requires that we confront and discard delusional myths about justice and equality which inhibit and damage us in image and in reality both domestically and globally.We Americans can; indeed must become much better than the delusions of freedom and equality we don’t practice as fully as we should. We as a nation are beginning to out grow indifference if not actual tolerance for the domestic terrorism which for too long allowed insidious racism to openly reign. The civil society push back during and after the Trump years indicated how much the American electorate and key institutional sectors such as business, higher education, media, professional associations,and private foundations have no preference for white nationalism . But we must do much more than lip service and marginal symbolic institutional things and rituals and engage in the difficult conversations and actions to create the sustainable multicultural democracy we deserve to have and can do.Otherwise, really, honestly besides the bar b que and sweet lemonade, why celebrate a day which is nothing more than hollow brass?