Black, on the Fourth of July

John Sloan, Co-Lead Organizer BLMDetroit @jsloan3 @DetroitBLM

As a typical child of the Eighties, I remember growing up surrounded by “Americana”. I was regaled with stories of my grandfather and his brothers fighting valiantly in WWII. I proudly memorized the Pledge of Allegiance, and knew every verse of “America, The Beautiful.” My life was not all that dissimilar to any other kid growing up in the great state of Michigan.

The difference, however, is that the Americana I grew up with was filtered through dramatically different lenses. The powerful and stories of boot camps and dogfights were balanced with my grandfather’s experience as a Tuskegee Airman. The verses to “Lift Every Voice And Sing” were embedded in my remembrance with an almost religious conviction. And, while I stood every morning and pledged “allegiance” to the Stars and Stripes, the “Stars and Bars” were vividly on display — even causing my parents to avoid driving us through cities like Howell, MI, for fear of physical violence.

My sense of Americana was then and is now dramatically different from millions of other American citizens’ — and therein lies my struggle.

I want to celebrate my nation. I want to cheer for fireworks and awe at parades marched to the music of John Philip Sousa. I want to love my country with an unfailing faith. But the older I get, the harder that becomes.

As with the famous Frederick Douglass speech “What to a slave is the fourth of July?” I seek the answer to a very similar question: What does it mean to celebrate a National Holiday?

Does it mean you rejoice in an overarching ideal — celebrating in the freedoms that result of an open democratic society? Is your spirit shaken when confronting the dichotomy of this nation’s birth? Or, perhaps, the truth somewhere in the middle? Let’s take Columbus Day as an example.

…wait, no…that’s too easy.

This past Fourth of July was, for me, very difficult. I could not find my way to celebrating the birth of a nation that was stolen through genocide. I struggled to find joy in a struggle for freedom by a nation that would continue to build its economic wealth on the backs of slaves.

Read the full article on Medium here.