I love America. I say that with the same shame of a woman, who is curled up on her old, black leather couch, looking at her friends through eyes blurred with old and new tears, and tells about how he, her man, came in at 3:18 a.m. smelling like Newports, Hennessey, and sweaty sex (the kind they used to have), who then choked and slapped her when she confronted him about his whereabouts. Seeing her friends faces makes her cry harder: how could she stay with this man their eyes ask? He doesn’t value you. Though she is largely responsible for building him up and making him the man he is today, he typically treats her as if she is worth nothing. Why does she still want him? Why does she still seek his love and acceptance?
But they don’t understand: he is all she knows.
I spent most of my childhood, with my hand on my heart, pledging allegiance to an American flag that was either in a corner or at the front-middle of my classrooms. I dressed up as a Native American and rode on a Fourth of July float when I was around 10 (the irony is understood now); I have hosted and attended over 30 July 4th barbeques. Celebrating Independence Day is all I know.
But I won’t be celebrating this year.
Last year, I wrote a blog post titled: 5 Reasons I’m Celebrating the 4th of July. I was trying, still hopeful, and not quite ready to let go of the American Dream. And I’m still hopeful because I must be. I live in America. I’m raising children in America. I’ve been programmed to love this country from birth.
But, there is nothing to celebrate this year. There is not enough sangria, hunch punch, or spiked lemonade; no fall-off-the-bone ribs or perfectly made potato salad; no amazing firework show or backyard exhibition that is going to lure me into a celebratory mood — not for this country — not right now.
Black folks were never on the invite-list for America’s party to celebrate independence from England. We weren’t free when the Declaration of Independence was signed. Yes, we fought Britain in the Continental army, for America’s freedom; but that’s just the point: we’ve never questioned our contributions to America — rather just it’s reciprocal dedication to us. With a military force that is now almost 18% Black, we have fought for ideals – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; but with disappointing appreciation.
Our lives are at constant peril.
Black Americans die at higher rates than whites from most causes, including cancer, heart disease, and homicide.
Black Americans are convicted at five times the rate of White Americans.
An ever-increasing share of African Americans have been arrested for drug crimes, yet African Americans are no more likely than whites to sell or use drugs.
We are regularly reminded by the way Colin Kapaernick, Melissa Harris Perry, and the Black Lives Matter protests were treated that we don’t even have the freedom to voice our discontent about our treatment in America.
Pursuit of Happiness?:
For the same work with the same qualifications, we still don’t have earnings equality with Whites. Whites make an average of $25.22 an hour compared to $18.49 for blacks.
America is all I know. I am American; and I still love her (I say with shame). But I am also Black. And the two often conflict, it seems. I, we, are trying to figure out how to be both each day. I know that before I can celebrate my American-ness; I must feel as America celebrates and values my Blackness. Before I rejoice in our liberties, my brothers and sisters cannot be locked up at 5 times the rates of Whites; I must stop losing sleep from worry about law enforcement every time my son goes out; I must know that the justice system reflects that a Black life is as valuable as a White life. So, now, is no time for celebration. To do so would be no more than a perverse attempt to fit-in and a complete avoidance of reality. Our problems are too big to do either.
“This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”