When I think of this year’s Independence Day holiday and the current pulse of our nation, I am reminded of a poem penned by Langston Hughes.
“Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed–
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek–
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.”
This poem, written in 1935, is more relevant now than ever. It draws from the experience of those who struggled as citizens of a fledgling nation in the grips of the Great Depression and Jim Crow and parallels our now divided nation in the throes of a vile and hateful administration.
But when I think of this holiday and the reasons we celebrate the independence of a birth of this nation, I am torn. July 4, 1777, meant American independence from British rule, but my ancestors, Native Americans, and immigrants were not free nor were they afforded the promise of this great new nation. Thus, I have long taken issue with the creed this country was founded on because I felt it was hypocritical.
So long as we have mass incarceration and governments investing more in prisons that schools, America will not be the land of the free. So long as unarmed men and women are shot and killed by those who are assigned to protect and serve them, America will not be the home of the brave. So long as American patriotism more closely resembles American greed and arrogance, America will not be America.
America must live out its creed in the most genuine way possible. If we are founded on the principles that all men are created equal, then we have to put our policies, money, and resources where our mouth is, so to speak. We must promote systemic change to ensure that the promise of America is extended to us all. Not just here on our mainland, but across the globe, for the whole of humanity. That creed has to be more than a clever slogan. And if we don’t make it true for all men, regardless of where they may fall within the margins of our nation, America will never be the America we all hope and wish it will be; it certainly won’t be ‘Great Again.’
I am grateful to live in this country, despite its shortcomings I am one who always keeps in mind the great promise and potential even the bleakest situations pose -that fact makes the reality of where we are as a nation all the more frustrating. Because I know we can do better and be better as a nation, and we live beneath our potential. The opportunities this country have afforded have also provided me great responsibility to bear and tell the truth, but also to ensure everyone
One necessity the Declaration of Independence points to is the fact that people of color should extend to themselves “the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence” that Frederick Douglas spoke of in July 1852. As such, whether you celebrate this holiday or not, we can honor the work of those who have paved the way to move us onward from recognizing the potential greatness of America to ensuring that what America was meant to be is relevant and a reality for ALL Americans born on this soil or not.