Red, White and Who?: Why July 4 Is Not My Independence Day

The world is at odds. This year the fourth of July falls on especially revolutionary times as our Black communities fight for equity on the frontlines, within systems, and through digital platforms. We are rejecting systems built on oppression and demanding access to the freedom and equity that was once promised us. As this year’s independence holiday approaches, I question: Who does this holiday really celebrate?

America was branded as a dream. It attracted dreamers from around the world on the premise of wealth, opportunity, and freedom. However, as we all know, this vision and the philosophy of American exceptionalism have been historically manipulated to justify the abuse, neglect and murder of Black and brown bodies. It is the enslaved labor of these bodies that built the bedrock of America’s capital. For me, the fourth of July represents an insatiable American greed upheld by capitalism and white supremacy. A capitalism that enforces a scarcity mentality and wants us to believe that our freedom is not inherent, but that it must be earned through labor and productivity. This is not my idea of independence.

I remember as a kid the Fourth of July meant a day off from school, summer barbecues, and cold sodas by the lake. My family had immigrated from Sudan, and while I often visited my home there, America was also my home. It was not until I began to engage in political social action that I realized that America could simultaneously be my home and not welcome me. I struggled to make peace with living in a place that oppressed the identities that shaped me. But I also realized that I wasn’t alone in this contradiction. 

America is home to a plethora across ethnicities, religions and cultures, so what does it look like to heal our many relationships with this country? What do we need in order to mend past wounds and invest in the health and prosperity of all our communities? The more questions I asked, the more people I found to commune with in carving out our own American dream. 

As the country contends with tensions of old and new, past and future, oppressor and oppressed, I am reminded of activist Sonya Renee Taylor’s words, “We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was never normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, My friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.” 

I realize that it’s okay to grieve what we have lost. America once held refuge and safety for many immigrant communities, mine included, and it’s painful to watch your home unravel and evolve and change. This Fourth of July I am providing space to grieve the pain of our ancestors and the continued suffering of our communities. I am praying for those lost, carrying faith in those leading the change for a new normal and investing in my version of independence. 

Use this Fourth of July to support the American communities that are still fighting for freedom. Donate to bail funds, research ways to be an effective ally, shop at a Black-owned business, vote in your next election. As our oppressions are inextricably linked, so too is our liberation.