Every year, people across the United States celebrate the founding of this country with backyard barbecues, a trip to the beach, plenty of beer, and of course, fireworks. But this year inherently feels different, and demands that we all reconsider the foundations that this holiday is built on.
For most, 2020 has been spent indoors as we try to flatten the curve of the global coronavirus pandemic — a collective action many have taken to keep each other safer in the absence of a government-enforced plan to aggressively address the public health crisis. We’re also in the midst of an economic recession, leading the president to start reopening the economy.
But as the pandemic continues and the economy declines, the swift and massive national uprising against systemic racism and police violence has redefined conversations about freedom in this country, especially as we approach arguably the most important election in recent history. This year is heavy, and with everything going on, it also provides us with an opportunity to reckon with what the Fourth of July really means.
On July 4, 1776, the country’s 13 colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence stating that “all men are created equal,” and yes at the time that really did only apply to white, property-owning men. Despite the fact that 244 years have passed since the United States was supposedly liberated from British rule, the systemic oppression of Black Americans continues to this day in the forms of housing, medical, job, and education discrimination, while also being disproportionately harmed by policing, the criminal justice system, and the prison industrial complex.
Over the last five weeks, following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, activists have taken collective action against racist policing and white supremacy writ large. Thousands have demanded the abolition of the police, and for the release of people incarcerated across the country. Racist statues, including of slave owners and Confederate monuments, have been toppled in more than 15 cities — sometimes by political leaders, and often by protesters.
But, the Southern Poverty Law Center estimates as of last year that there were still 1,747 monuments, schools, cities and counties, holidays, and U.S. military bases named after Confederate figures. The United States has never truly reconciled its racist history, while asserting itself as the freest nation on the planet. Black communities have historically been pillaged by racial capitalism, while being deprived of the resources and investments they need to thrive. The legacy of American slavery lives on both in these buildings and statues, and in the systems that define the fabric of our lives.
In a country where Black people are still routinely killed by police with impunity, and where 2.3 million people are incarcerated in jails, prisons, and immigration detention centers — with Black people disproportionately affected — the Fourth of July has always been a whitewashed holiday that celebrates the illusion that we are all truly free.
The backdrop to this year’s Independence Day is a centuries-long fight for liberation for Black people that thousands of people have taken to the streets over the last month. At the end of the day, our liberation is tied to one another.
This year, let us reckon with the fact that the Fourth of July has never really been about collective freedom or liberation, especially in a country that was founded on land stolen from Indigenous peoples. Independence Day may be different this year, especially for people who haven’t paid attention until recently to the racist systems on which this country is founded, and it should be.
Let this year strip the American flags and exceptionalist narrative of this supposedly free country, and instead center the continued struggle for Black liberation.