What the 4th Means to Me

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Not trying to look into things too deeply, but as I become more and more conscious of the history and the conditions of my ancestors, I begin to see all the societal contradictions around me. The latest for example is the celebration of the the 4th of July. As a history teacher, I am very aware of the fact that when the Declaration of Independence was written, that Thomas Jefferson the author of the this historical document, had no intentions of freeing his own slaves, but at the same time he petitioned for freedom from England.

So what did the Declaration of Independence and July 4th mean to black people in America in 1776? It meant that nothing would  change. The date that actually holds more significance for African Americans from a historical and practical sense, is June 19th 1865. This was the date in which all ( I use the word all loosely) slaves were officially informed and emancipated from slavery. That is the date that all true Americans should celebrate. That is when we should break out our colors, sing, dance and give homage to those who bore the burden of enslavement, so that we could be free today. However, I would venture on to say that less than half of the black people in America are even aware of June 19th 1865 (also known as Juneteenth) and its importance.

Now, I am happy and honored to live in America. I consider myself just as American as anyone else. However, we still have some work to do as a nation. We still have to be honest. We should celebrate all of our freedoms, rights and liberties. Nonetheless, we must share all of our stories, the good and the bad. The ones that we are proud of and ashamed of, so that we can be conscious and not simply go with the flow. Some of our time- honored traditions can be quite disturbing, especially when it comes to the things that we celebrate. Do you realize that folks in  America actually used to celebrate the lynching of black people? They made post cards and greeting cards with black bodies hanging from oak trees, as a crowd of unconscious white folks grinned and smiled at their prize catch.

I don’t want to fall into the trap of superficial hype and commercialism. If I am going to celebrate or honor a day, I want to understand the full history, so that I can fully appreciated it. The 4th of July has a different purpose and meaning for different people. And we all have the opportunity and right to create whatever that meaning is for us.

I decided to spend my Independence Day celebrating my African roots and culture at the 45th Annual International African Arts Festival, in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. It was amazing. I felt as if I had traveled to another world and another possibility; to a place where blackness was celebrated, and beautiful, and peaceful and free. That is the America that  I hope that we all can experience everyday.