America’s Independence Day. The Fourth of July. Fireworks and cookouts. Hugs, kisses, and giggles among all the family members you love to see. By look and sound of it, you’d think that everyone really does have freedom. See, we’ve made the mistake of equating independence for all with freedom with all. Now if that’s not furthest from the truth, I really don’t know what is.
Growing up, I often reduced the Fourth of July to a moment where I could cuddle with my mom on our front porch and watch the fireworks. However, as a young adult, it’s salt in an already infected wound. As an Afro-Caribbean woman, I can’t understand how a country built on the shoulders of my enslaved forefathers can consider every American citizen free. What does that even mean? If I can’t walk down the street late at night without fear of losing my life, am I free? If I can’t get pulled over or stopped by a police officer without anxiety choking the life from me, am I free? If my voice can’t be heard over the bigotry and racism that continues to dominate this society, am I really free? The past 5 years have really shifted my perspective on freedom in this country, and even in the world. Every Black brother that I’ve lost, every Black sister that I’ve lost, every person not of color who ignored me in a professional setting because I wasn’t the skin color they wanted, every time I have to #SayTheirNames, every time I have to protest, every time I have to write and perform and channel and draw on and pull from reserves I don’t have, a piece of me is locked up even tighter.
American Independence is not synonymous to the existence of freedom in this society, and certainly not in the communities I inhabit. I am constantly reminded of the many ways I’ve been failed when it comes to true freedom, and I cringe at the social media attacks and media storms that detail the discriminatory occurrences that plague us consistently. I have more reminders of suppressed moments than that of freedom. Isn’t that something? Even if just for a second, I challenge you to reflect on the real meaning of the Fourth of July. Whose freedom are you celebrating? Whose freedom are you forwarding? Whose freedom do you have? It’s time to remove the rose colored glasses, if not for ourselves, for those growing beneath us.
I imagine that when I have kids, this conversation will be similar, to say the least, because I want them to know the truth. I want them to know that the sparklers and fireworks and “prettiness” of this holiday exists on a foundation filled with a whole lot of ugly. It exists on sacrifices that their great-greats shouldn’t have had to make. It exists on the shoulders of a generation hoping to not reap the harvest of Jim Crow. It exists on people punished by a system they thought would help them. It exists on a heck of a lot more than what the world would like them to believe. And I won’t hold back. I won’t shy away from it because their surroundings won’t. It’s going to pop up in their lives as long as chocolate blood flows through their veins.
In so many ways, America’s boast of freedom is nothing short of an optical illusion. We are the same land of the free that imprisons the minds, bodies and souls of millions without fuss or reservation every single day. It is my prayer that we continue to acknowledge and break these shackles one expression of dissent at a time.