As another Independence Day (also known as the Fourth of July) rolls around, I’ve been mulling over what freedom is, what it looks like, and wondering why so many people still celebrate such a fraudulent day? The Declaration of Independence was signed after the Continental Congress declared that the thirteen American colonies were no longer subject to the monarch of Britain and were now united, free, and independent states. Congress voted to declare independence two days earlier, on July 2, 1776, but it was not declared until July 4th, 1776.
With that declaration independence also came a declaration of freedom from the nation’s founders:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”
~ U.S Declaration of Independence
Except all men didn’t have the right to their own life, let alone liberty, or the ability to pursue happiness because they were enslaved.
In 1776, all men weren’t liberated. And In 1776, I’m sure enslaved men and women who made the Middle Passage trip here or those born into slavery after that time sure as hell weren’t happy to be enslaved, no matter how much the rewriters of history try to make it so.
Even caged birds dream of being free.
Liberty vs Slavery
Slavery violated the core American Revolutionary ideal of liberty, and so did the theft of American Indian territories, but the founders did all those things, anyway. One man’s liberty meant another man’s misery. How could in one breathe the nation’s founders believe all men were created equal with the right to pursue liberty, while they believed it was all right to hold, sell, rape, breed and work enslaved men and women of African descent against their wills in the next breath?
The contradiction of liberty and slavery go hand with this experiment we call America. This nation has never reconciled the fact everyone wasn’t free and everyone didn’t have liberty, so our virtues are fantasies for us all. Liberty was for Whites. Slavery (which is not freedom) was for Blacks/Africans. Sometimes I think all people in America suffer from cognitive dissonance.
Over the years, I’ve become disillusioned with America and its concept of freedom. It’s been and illusive illusion I just can’t seem to get my head around.
Read this address by former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglas’ “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July” to better understand the lie, written July 5th, 1852. They don’t teach this in most schools.
The Nostalgia of Freedom
Celebrating the July 4th and the illusion of freedom the founders had is nostalgic for many people (I can’t bring myself to call these slave owners father’s). It’s a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation. My father, a descendant of slaves, celebrates it because his family did it. In all actuality, he celebrates the freedom of others, and I don’t understand why. I guess celebrating the 4th of July is nostalgic for him, like it is most people who partake in celebrating the fairytale. We like the eating, barbecuing on the grill, consuming large quantities of alcohol, the gathering of family, the prepping of food, and for some of us — we enjoy the day paid day off from work.
And let’s not talk about the manufactured methods we’re supposed to celebrate the fourth of July. We go out, buy lots of food, red, white, and blue decorations, fireworks, or go out on the open waters to celebrate on boats, driving while intoxicated. Celebrating fake freedom must be done a certain way or we’re disrespecting America. How can I disrespect a nation that has cursed me since the day I was born, leaving me with no instruction manual on how to break the curse?
I need to be happy, grateful, patriotic, and appreciative to the founders, even if they enslaved my people. We’ve been stripped of our history and forced to celebrate independence for some. Consuming stuff has replaced common sense. As long as it feels good and brings us good memories, it’s all good. That kind of nostalgia is dangerous. It got us where we are today.
None of Us Are Free or Independent
No one in America is free — except perhaps the super wealthy who have very few rules and laws they have to obey. Freedom today still isn’t for everyone.
I know I’m not free, nor do I really have any liberties. I also know I’m not equal to Whites and other groups passing. For instance, if I want to fish without trouble in America, I need to buy a fishing license. That license allows or permits me to fish. I need a license (permission) to drive if I want to be legal. I need permits to do several things, like to carry a concealed weapon, hunt, or to do certain types of work on my home/property. I’m enslaved to debt like a lot of us are. I can’t marry who I want to, not unless it’s a cis/hetero marriage. Even though same-sex marriage is legal, it isn’t accepted and not widely accepted.
Same-sex couples, lesbians, bisexuals, queer, and trans men and women don’t enjoy the same benefits, opportunities, and graces heterosexual individuals and couples do. Some of us live marginalized, while others of us are forced to live in the shadows.
I don’t have the freedom or liberty to go in stores to shop without being suspected of stealing. My sons don’t have the luxury of driving around in cars with their friends late at night. I can’t swim at any beach I want to in the nude, and I must pay taxes or forfeit the things I thought I owned. I can’t drive any old way I want to in the ocean or on the city streets. I must obey traffic, civil and criminal laws to avoid fines and jail time. And because I’m Black, I could lose my life. That’s not freedom. I can’t even live off the grid unless I get permission, follow some rules, and pay my local jurisdiction money for the right to live the way I want to. I don’t have the freedom to opt out of paying taxes for things I don’t support, nor can I keep the right to vote so I can tell representatives how I desire for those tax dollars to be spent.
None of us are free. We are not independent either despite the help pull yourself up lie politicians have sold us.
I need you and you need me, either directly or indirectly, but you better believe we need each other. You make my clothing, fix my car, treat my drinking water, clean my hotel room, grow my food, cook my meals in restaurants, teach me through your words of wisdom, make the spare part for my refrigerator, or you may cash my check at the bank. We are interdependent on one another.
Freedom and independence are lies. It’s the reason I stopped celebrating Independence Day. I don’t watch fireworks, nor do I buy patriotic garb to celebrate the nation that has never respected my being, my agency, or my existence. We are not free, nor are we independent.
We’ve Never Been Free
Today, so many of our rights, liberties and freedoms that are supposed to come with our citizenship have been taken away, yet we continue to celebrate. The Patriot Act takes away our rights to privacy. The Real ID Act prevents us from flying inside of and outside of the country. Racial, bipartisan, and partisan redistricting that favors one political party, has a long tradition in the United States that precedes the 1789 election of the First U.S. Congress. We’ve never really had the power or agency to pick who we want to lead us. It’s been predetermined for us by biased people with bad eyesight.
We think we have the freedom to speak, but we don’t. Our words must be suitable to the powers that be or we risk being censored or bullied into silence, especially when speaking truth. We’re always meeting someone else’s standards and seeking someone else’s approval. We have no agency over our bodies, our thoughts, or our actions. We are policed, governed, or monitored in some form or fashion.
For instance, As a Black woman, I’m heavily curated here on Medium. If I say what they like, those in control will allow my thoughts to be shared with others. If not, I’m buried with the hundreds of thousands of other Black and Brown folks trying to speak. Censorship of my words for suitability by people with power is not freedom.
I can’t go where I want to, I need a passport of visa to come and go in America as I please. I can’t live where I want to for a variety of reasons (race, lack of financial opportunities, etc.). I can’t even kneel in protest without social and financial retribution at the hands of the people in power who get to determine who and what patriotism is.
I’m not rich, so I must pay my way through this life. I can’t work where I want to, because there are people who believe I don’t belong in certain spaces, regardless of how much I know, my skills, or my professional background. There are laws and rules for almost everything.
The bottom line is we aren’t free, so why am I celebrating their illusion of independence. When I know better, I do better, and I don’t do things contrary to the truth if I can help it. We get enough lies every day coming from our very own government.
Celebrating liberty, freedom, and justice for some isn’t how I roll, so I’m not celebrating anything at all. More of us should take the same stance and perhaps corporate America will take note. So will our federal, state, and local legislators. Money is power, and they need us more than we realize it. I will never again be complicit in this government’s long history of inequality, inequity, oppression and enslavement.
The day we have true freedom for all, the day all people have the same liberties, and the day every person in this nation is considered equal, regardless of skin color or socioeconomic status, I will celebrate the 4th of July. After 243 years, I won’t be holding my breath.
The Declaration of Independence was a lie in 1776, and it’s a lie in 2019. All men aren’t free, and all men aren’t equal.
©2019 Marley K. All rights reserved.
If you enjoyed this essay, you may like these: