Every Fourth of July Americans come together for backyard BBQs and go to watch the night time fireworks. If you’re in Philly, there are week long long city sponsored events that culminate in Party on the Parkway – a massive free Independence Day concert where you’re almost certain to see The Roots or Boyz II Men.
But as a Black American, you’re also almost certain to hear people say things along things like, “I don’t know why you all are celebrating that holiday – our ancestors didn’t gain their independence on the 4th.” Many people talk about how as Black people, we should recognize Juneteenth as our day or independence instead. And in my opinion, a lot of these statements are made in a very condescending, “how ignorant of you, you don’t even know your own history” type of way. So as a person who knows their history pretty well and one has always enjoyed a Fourth of July BBQ, I’ve always found this line of thought kind of petty.
Even though I do enjoy Independence Day festivities, I had never really thought much about my Americaness. As a Black person (and I’m sure as any other person of color) you get told by society in a myriad of ways that although you’re apart of America, somehow you’re not quite American enough. You’re not “mainstream” or “Main Street” American, you’re not “typical” or “everyday” American. Through either complete lack of representation or too much misrepresentation, you are “othered” and so you learn to not wave your [figurative] American flag everywhere and scream to the mountain tops “God Bless America.”
But as a person of African descent serving as a PCV in a part of Peru where there are
virtually no Black people, I am constantly being asked if I am a “pure American.” Many people are more ready to accept the fact that my tall, blonde hair, blue eyed site mate has to be more American than I could ever be. On the not so great days, the last thing you want someone asking is, “but you’re not 100% American so where is your family from.” It makes you want to mass produce little cards that say, “My family has been in the United States forever because enslaved Africans were forced to go to North America too, ya know” so you can hand them out every time you’re not in the mood to explain the complexities of the slave trade in Spanish.
Truth is, whether they were conscious of it or not, my enslaved ancestors were born into unimaginably horrific lives and died not as human beings but as property so that I can have the right to call myself an American citizen and be annoyed if anyone tried to insinuate otherwise. They most likely suffered rapes, physical mutilation, loss of children and other family members so that one day someone with their blood might be able to live as an American capable of celebrating their right to independence and freedom.
So I don’t subscribe to the, “Independence Day Isn’t for Black People” shtick – we criticize political and social institutions for “othering” us but yet here we are excluding ourselves from the most American of American Holidays all while ignoring what our ancestors had to go through so we can even have the nerve to say, “Let’s celebrate Juneteenth instead.”
Why can’t we recognize being Americans and the descendants of slaves and like… celebrate both? A shocking proposal, I know, but who doesn’t love an extra excuse for a cook out.
And although our country is far from perfect, this whole Peace Corps experience has taught me to take more pride in where I come from. Maybe I won’t be decked out in American flag print clothes screaming “God Bless America” at the top of my lungs, but I will certainly continue to proudly celebrate the 4th
Happy Independence Day, ya’ll.