An American falsehood: the Fourth of July
Updated: Jul 6, 2020
While marked in the calendars of many white Americans as a holiday of celebration and pride, for Black and Brown communities the fourth of July is rather a triggering reminder of generational trauma and genocidal death, symbolizing the violent paradoxical existence of the United States.
Revered as the marker of this day and notable emblem of American Democracy, The Declaration of Independence largely afforded liberties to the white cisgendered men of American society, while women and people of color continued to face the wrath of white supremacy and heteropatriarchal violence; a nation who overthrew oppressive British imperialism found itself perpetuating the same violence it aimed to escape. Indigenous communities were at war with colonial annihilation as they fought to preserve their land, while Black Americans remained enchained by white slave-holding men like Thomas Jefferson, the architects of such false documents which sewed the fabric of the nation.
Jefferson’s desired outcome of a harmonious society free from avarice and extortion rather manifested as one where settler-colonial violence prevailed through battles like the Cherokee wars. Nearing the precipice of independence in 1776, Cherokee, Creek, and Choctaw forces attacked US forces to resist colonial infringement upon their hunting grounds, resulting in a vigorous white militia attack that destroyed Cherokee crops, towns, and autonomous power.
This same violence prevailed through legislation such as the Doctrine of Discovery, a law that ruled the United States inherited the colonial discovery rights once vested in sovereign European nations. In the 1823 case Johnson v. M’Intosh, the United States Supreme Court unanimously mandated the doctrine, sanctioning the conquest and colonization of non-white, non-christian territories. The law subsequently denied land rights to Indigenous peoples, paving the way for their forced assimilation into white American society and social erasure through paper genocide.
To this day, the Doctrine nor the court case have been overruled by the government, proving the nation’s sustained vested interest in the disenfranchisement of Indigenous Peoples.
In their Zine Voting is Not Harm Reduction, grassroots collective Indegenous Action articulates how these laws “were not designed as a benevolent form of harm reduction,” but rather “an extension of a military strategy that couldn’t fulfill its genocidal programs.” Through these laws “citizenship was forced onto Indigenous Peoples as part of colonial strategy to, “Kill the Indian and save the man.”
In 1787, Indigenous communities were rarely granted citizenship upon the founding of the constitution, unless they dissolved their tribal relationships and denounced their “uncivilized” modes of life. With the same stroke of the pen, Black Americans were branded ⅗ of a human being where they would be met with the institutional lashings of fugitive slave laws and harsher slave codes. They would soon work to their death upon the arrival of the cotton gin in 1793, skyrocketing the slave population and cotton-growing regions in southern states to meet the capitalist interests of the newly formed white supremacist state.
Such a reality is what dared Frederick Douglass to pose the question “what to the American slave, is your 4th of July?” in his notorious 1852 address.
What is a glorious anniversary of statesmanship, patriotism, and liberty to white America is to Black America, as Douglass reminds us, “a day that reveals...more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which [the slave] is the constant victim.” As Douglass further articulates, the celebration of white people is to people of color a “mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.”
In other other words, your fourth of July is an insult.
A day filled with fireworks, parades, and barbecues for many is also one where Black trans women are killed at disproportionate rates; immigrant children remain in cages at the border; the Navajo nation battles with rates of COVID-19 surpassing other states; the Yemenis suffer in a humanitarian crisis fueled by American imperialism, and Palestinians face annexation by US-backed Israeli forces.
A day where some enjoy hot dogs at the poolside is also a day where thousands continue to march from the streets of New York to the trails of Mount Rushmore only to be met with the tear gas of militarized police whose boots stand upon stolen land.
The Coalition to Honor Black and Indigenous Activists, a coterie of queer and lesbian organizers, marched alongside New Yorkers from Fort Greene Park to Prospect Park to honor Black and Indigenous activists, refusing to partake in the nation’s whitewashing of history.
A day of historical amnesia for many is also a day of historical awakening for those of us who reject a farcical day of remembrance which serves to mask centuries of white violence in the name of independence and freedom.
As Angela Davis said, nationalism only creates narrow parameters around community, so we must continue to engage in abolitionist praxis and organizing which manifests through mutual aid networks and revolutionary solidarity.
No American flag is large enough to cover the wounds millions of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people bear from the scars of their ancestors.
The only path to liberation for all oppressed people is radical revolution, a moment we are already bearing witness to and participating in. If we are to salvage any semblance of meaning from the Declaration of Independence, it is the words that state “whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."
Only through the abolition of the institutions of violence that comprise the DNA of the United States will we then see a world where life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is a reality for all people.
Instead of celebrating July 4th you can:
Read this zine by The Indigenous Action collective
Sign this petition to stop Mark Zuckerberg from colonizing Kaui in Hawaii
Donate to Navajo and Hopi families impacted by COVID-19