Written by Dr. Boyce Watkins
When I think about the fourth of July, my mind is motionless. I don’t get happy, sad, angry or thoughtful. As a 40-year old man, I can’t even get excited about the fireworks anymore. The holiday means as much to me as the birthday of my biological father who abandoned me at birth. In fact, I don’t even know what day he was born.
The fourth of July has quite a bit of meaning for our nation at large, of course, given that it was the day on which the Declaration of Independence was signed. Black people were still slaves on that day, which highlights the core of persistent American hypocrisy as it relates to race. All the while, one has to respect the courage shown by Americans of all ethnic backgrounds who fought against the tyranny of the British to create the powerful nation in which we live today. If we actually had the courage to live up to the ideals of those who gave their lives for freedom, we’d be a much better country because of it.
For African Americans, we don’t quite have a true fourth of July. This is not only because the original fourth of July took place while we were still slaves, but because we have not yet earned our independence. Of course, we obtained some semblance of freedom in 1865, after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation; but being free is far from being truly independent. Despite the fact that slavery ended long ago, the descendants of our historical oppressors still control nearly every dimension of our lives:
1) Large corporations like Viacom and Time Warner control major black media outlets like BET and Essence, giving them the right to shape our collective point of view. We depend on these companies to tell us what to think.
2) Most African Americans are controlled by corporate jobs that mute their ability to speak out or stand up on issues of social justice. We depend on companies owned by others in order to feed our children.
3) Black children’s minds are obliterated at an early age by media giants who mass market hip-hop music that sells black boys a recipe for self-destruction by the time they reach kindergarten. Capitalist and shareholder-created monstrosities like Lil Wayne teach them how to kill themselves and each other by the time they become teenagers.
4) Our children have their futures thrown into the trash by school systems that put even the most brilliant black boys in special education at a rate that is five times greater than white kids.
5) The NCAA still earns over a billion dollars per year on the backs of black families, leaving many single black mothers in poverty. In fact, athlete compensation has been criminalized, while mostly white coaches and administrators sign multi-million dollar contracts without playing in any of these sporting events.
6) Black unemployment is nearly double that of white Americans, with no politician in Washington expressing any interest in alleviating the suffering with targeted policy. We depend on politicians and a Democratic Party that fills our minds empty rhetoric, while not respecting us enough to deliver on campaign promises.
The most glaring sign of our lack of independence is the prison industrial complex, which has served to decimate the black family in America. Black men are disproportionately incarcerated and used as slave labor to make expensive corporate products. In fact, the 13th Amendment, which allegedly abolishes slavery, actually includes a clause stating that slavery is still legal if the government can label you as a felon.
So, part of my ambivalence toward the fourth of July doesn’t rest on hating others or carrying the crippling burden of acidic anger. It comes from the fact that I know that my people are at least 100 years away from gaining their independence. Consider me to be a pessimist, but when I look at the world around me, I see very little independence for black people.