I hear the pop, pop, pop of fireworks in the distance, and American flags waving from two houses on my block. The smell of charcoal drifts into my nostrils as the sound of house music fills the air. It’s the Fourth of July, summer’s first holiday and I'm feeling it; not today.
As a child and a young adult, like most Americans I loved the 4th of July. I remember holidays at my uncle’s house with his special everything-and-the-kitchen-sink BBQ sauce. I remember both buying and watching fireworks when it got dark. I remember feeling a sense of belonging. Every red, blooded American celebrated the 4th of July, right?
But when I grasped the full meaning of the 4th of July or Independence Day, my feelings became ambivalent. It was an American holiday, and I am an American citizen, but my ancestors were not part of the celebration of America’s emancipation from England. We went from indentured servitude to an imported enslaved labor force. We were anything but free then; we are anything but free today. And too often the red in the red, white and blue is not only the blood of those who died in the American Revolution, but the blood of Black folks flowing into the streets of America.
Since the Fourth of July was a day with family, I’d usually eat at one of my sisters’ houses, and then watch documentaries or movies on African-American history. It was my way of reconciling my Blackness with my American-ness. And that has worked for me until now. People of Color are treated poorly in this country, and Black people hold a unique place in American history in that we did not come by way of Ellis Island on the ships as passengers, but in the bowel of the ship as cargo. And we’ve been treated like shit ever since.
The struggle for dignity and respect for people who look like me is real. I know this because I know the history of racism in this country, but I think I drifted off and let my eyes close to the reality of racism and its impact. It is tightly woven into the fabric of America. From Trayvon Martin to the massacre at Mother Emmanuel church, I’ve been jolted back into a painful reality. I may have dozed off, but my eyes are wide open now. There’s nothing particularly patriotic about the plight of Black people in America.
Feeling exiled in the country of my birth on Independence Day, what is there for me to celebrate? While others are reveling in the festivities of the day, on this day, I say . . . boo, to the red, white and blue.