Published on July 9th, 2019 | by Nina Pulley
The Inspiration in the Fourth of July
Today, we see a country coming together to celebrate what is now the 243rd anniversary of the United States’, formerly a group of colonies. Its secession from the British empire was a cause for raucous celebration almost two and a half centuries ago. Presently, we remember that the operative word here is “colonies,” whose adjective is “colonial.” Colonialism, as most of us have learned at some point, is a system that took people, often indigenous populations with a deep connection to land and community, as property. To colonialists, they were holdings capable of producing enormous capital for a corporation. A corporation today is an operating body that, since being given rights by the Supreme Court, imitates personhood and has since limitlessly sought to gain wealth all the while functioning in relative moral bankruptcy.
Frederick Douglass famously critiqued: “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?”1 The same can be asked today: what is a holiday celebrating freedom and the sovereignty of personhood when they have been conferred upon a non-living entity and when social conditions, economic opportunities, and political treatment still remain far from equal? The holiday, in all honesty, disguises itself as a celebration of freedom from an oppressive system, with the assumption that all people are created equal. How can this be true when the very country in the throes of celebration has over 1.5 million people, mostly Black men, suffering in over 4,500 prisons2 nationwide?
This is meant to be an uplifting, inspirational post, we promise. Yet, it is helpful to challenge inspiration reach deeper than formality; further than obligation; higher than favorable conditions. Inspiration is often sparked by optimism, which itself has a number of misnomers: optimism does not seek to avoid or ignore challenges, but strives to see a positive aspect of situations regardless of their bleakness. We like to believe that there is always a silver lining, even if we can’t see it. The sun always shines behind the clouds, and the moon gives us light to brighten the night. Likewise, inspiration seeks to encourage in the bleakest of times. How does inspiration stand in the face of twisted ideas of nationalism, white supremacy, the slowly rousing dragon of the Confederacy, racist sentiments, rumors of wars, a flaming national government and disappointment everywhere one turns?
It calls us to make our own holiday. Although we may not believe in the fictitious occasion that seeks to celebrate colonial developments, much like Columbus Day, it is a day most people have off of work. If nothing else, it is a time for us to reflect and think about family, friends, or opportunities that we have to be thankful for, regardless of struggle.
So, we can all take time to think of Fourth of July differently. What sorts of ideas or interests free you? What sorts of false notions have you been freed from? Where in your life can you celebrate and encourage the development of a skill or task you’ve been putting off? What sorts of things can you celebrate, period? Celebrations of Juneteenth rang out last month: who says they have to stop? The barbecue is calling: what sorts of things can you cook up, which friends you can invite over? Take the Fourth of July, often deeply paradoxical to Black people across this country, to be a time to spin your own celebration of freedom.
- Dave Zirin, “‘What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?’ by Frederick Douglass,” The Nation, July 04, 2012, , accessed July 03, 2019, https://www.thenation.com/article/what-slave-fourth-july-frederick-douglass/.
- Report (Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2019), accessed July 03, 2019, https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/p17_sum.pdf.