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  • Writer's pictureKaren Okonkwo

Why I Didn't Celebrate the 4th of July

It’s the early morning of July 5th and I’m up reminiscing about the last 24 hours. I’m awake sitting here thinking about how various groups of people addressed the 4th of July. All Americans did not treat that day the same. I know for me it was met with indifference. Honestly, if not for social media I would have forgotten entirely about the holiday. We can blame it on the autopilot that has surfaced for me based on the pandemic, but I knew it was from something more. I could feel the overwhelming unrest of African American/Black and Indigenous People. One group of people this land was STOLEN from them. The other, was kidnapped to this stolen land and made it what it is today based on FREE labor. Both groups continue to experience economic and racial injustices which begs the question: what would THEY be celebrating?

The 4th of July celebrates America no longer being a British colony, of which it has traversed into the symbol of freedom and independence. The word “freedom” is what all Black and Indigenous People have been grappling with (note that I am aware of the distinction between "African Americans" and "Black" people and for the remainder of my thoughts will say "Black people" because in this present day we have ALL been impacted). Independence Day only further exacerbates the idea that though independent from Great Britain, the freedom is not equal amongst all citizens.

As a first generation Nigerian-American woman, my indifference predominantly came from a discussion I had had earlier in the week with a friend. He said, “Lebanon is on the brink of war.” He explained that people protesting the government were being killed, that the exchange rate had soared to an unthinkable, inaccessible level and that people were living in extreme poverty -complete famine. Freedom of speech is like a death sentence in many regions of the world like Lebanon. Every day, a war zone. People would die for the chance to escape those conditions. It made me think of my parents and how they took advantage of the opportunity to come to America for a better life. America gave them that, especially with free enterprise. I would be remiss if I didn’t honor and acknowledge that. BUT, that doesn’t mean that they didn’t and don’t experience discrimination and racism on the daily....for being Black in America.

Which brings me to the main reason for my indifference. I am a Black person in America. I am conscious of the ripple effect of slavery that has seeped into the framework of institutions barring most Black people from advancing economically, to name a few. Even those who broke through the barriers like my parents, are still met with micro-aggressions daily and the reality that the laws in place have been designed to count them (us) out. That when we enter into a predominantly white neighborhood, get pulled over, or simply exist, the outcome of our lives statistically against our White/Non-Hispanic counterparts in the same situation is different. Is deadly.

It’s tough to know that White people have had a 400 year head start from Black people, particularly those descending from slaves, and they insist that you should get over it and honor the flag. This veiled patriotism is White superiority. So sure, we can go ahead and throw up fireworks to commemorate no longer belonging to Great Britain, but we can’t keep acting like this flag, these current laws are distractions designed to keep oppressing Black and Indigenous People, especially.

So while I appreciate the opportunities America has afforded my family, I am aware that within that freedom there are still injustices against Black and Indigenous People. We aren’t free until everybody is free. So if celebrating the 4th of July meant what we have come to know it as: freedom and independence, then I will observe my celebrations until we can as a nation live up to that. I believe in us.

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