Perhaps this week has been marked in your minds due to the aroma of ribs and other grilled items on the barbeque. Perhaps it has been marked by the arrival of summer weather, sunshine, and time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Perhaps, even, this week has been marked by “The Decision” by a 25-year-old on what city he will take his money-making, basketball-playing abilities to.
These are some of the reasons to enjoy this past week, one where Americans will attempt to forget the escalating tensions in our nation, stemming from continued high unemployment, continued economic stressors on middle-class and working-class Americans, and continue disappointments in leaders from both sides of the aisle to calm down the growing racial, social, and cultural tensions brewing since the 2000 presidential elections.
I come to you today, humbly and perhaps nervously, as I wonder what this 4th of July was supposed to mean to me – and perhaps to us all, not just African-Americans within the United States that are suffering higher rates of negative statistics more than any other racial or cultural makeup other than Native Americans, but also for the rest of the citizens of our great land, even as we continue to hear about why our diversity and colorful differences should be delineations to keep us distrustful of one another, not demarcations to be expanded upon with courage and excitement so that we can leverage our perspectives to bridge ourselves over these troubled times.
I cannot come to you today as a proud Negro freedman such as the great Frederick Douglass did so many years ago. As were the founding fathers of this nation, Mr. Douglass was a man that was an epic leader within the United States of America. Whereas the founding fathers were tantamount with the establishment of our great land starting with the holiday we just celebrated, Mr. Douglass was paramount in pushing the consciousness of a fractionalized culture, a tormented president, and a war-torn nation to a place where building up a stronger nation meant tearing down the immoral comforts of the status quo and challenging the contemporary constructs inhibiting Americans of both genders and all racial backgrounds.
In that regard, I wish that this 4th of July be not like the one that Mr. Douglass endured in 1852, where he asked to his audience in Rochester, NY why he was asked to speak to the beauty of American liberty at a time when humanity of African slaves was still overtly devalued, simultaneously done in the midst of Independence Day celebrations. However, I do expect and demand that we begin to view this new 4th of July cycle as did Mr. Douglass, taking the opportunity to reflect upon how we will be able to take our war-torn nation – a nation being pulled apart at the seams by overseas conflicts, urban terrorism, racial and social disconnect, and economic class warfare – to a place of healing and resolution so that we can overcome these troubled times. As did Mr. Douglass, I hope that this 4th of July cycle can allow us to direct our tormented and currently troubled president to a clearer vision of what must be done to correct our nation’s woes, even as the decisions may seemingly go against his personal beliefs but with a correctness that only the wisest of men around him will encourage and understand, much as Mr. Douglass did in his time. It is my hope that we will have the courage to acknowledge and embrace our fractionalized American culture in today’s nation so that we can fully engage, heal, and foster the fractionalized sub-cultures within the United States – the communities and categories of citizens where unemployment, under-education, and uneasiness from birth to early demise are the anticipated norm for generations of families. In a time where we must be willing to acknowledge our differences within America without discounting our common bond as Americans, it is my hope that we are as strong as Mr. Douglass to take pride in our nation’s diversity as we will need to be courageous in our common knowledge of it to bind the fractures and leverage the impending strength of healing to create a better, more United States of America.
Yet, I am discouraged about our current journey. Perhaps Mr. Douglass was as well, even if his words from 1852 do not exhibit this pain or anxiety. As for him, he rhetorically asked the question: “What is the meaning of the 4th of July to the Negro?” As for me today, I humbly plea to my fellow countrymen and lady citizens: “What is the meaning of the 4th of July to a New School Negro?”
My question today can and does expand into multiple layers of directives for answers.
Although we have moved our nation past the usage of the term “Negro”, I grant that I am, in many ways, a “New School Negro” of the 21st century. As such, I am called to take into account the social conditions around us, the political rumblings affecting us, and the historical obligations pushing us. And when I use the term “us”, that term is universal – used to stand for us, that is, “United States”, including African-Americans that stand on the brisk of the very best and the very worst on this 4th of July.
So, in that regard, I am not the only “New School Negro”, and therefore, I must ask: what does this 4th of July mean to us collectively as a new generation advancing from the legacy of former slaves and abolitionists? Mr. Douglass said to his 1852 audience, “…Fellow-citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions…whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day (sic), rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them…” And today, is that not the case with the New School Negro, those that celebrate the achievement of riches and allure while the deafening calls for social change and young Black leadership rings in the inner city cadence of gunfire, violence, and anguish? Have we forgotten the lynchings of the past or the gunfire from yesterday’s news that we have replaced the meaning of the 4th of July’s symbolism for freedom and liberty that our ancestors died for with the shallow pursuit of time off and luxury, even as an increased amount of us are not free any longer – freed by educational liberty, liberated by economic opportunities, or made loose by efforts to leverage the painful triumphs of history with the historic gains some of us enjoy today? I am not talking about economic redistribution, but I am certainly referring to historic reflection and obligation.
Mr. Douglass said in 1852 that, “…whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting.” Yet, what must we say to the New School Negro of today? If we look at the horrible treatment of Black women in the days of lore – when Americans celebrated collective liberty while persecuting its women with horrors of sub-equality, most notably persecuting its Black female slaves – how much more hideous and revolting is our conduct today where we celebrate the objectification of our women and embrace terms such as “player”, “pimp”, “dog” and “nigga’” as our terms of endearment for men we revere and love? If we look at the status of our Black relationships today, were the times more hideous when our families when our families were broken up by government – either through slavery in the 19th century or through bureaucratic programs in the 20th century – or are they more hideous today because we foster the expectation that our bodies, our relationships, our ability to love, and our need for emotional continuality must be disrespected at each crossroads? Even for those that have secured the American Dream that affords many of us to vacation during this 4th of July cycle, I ask: is it more hideous that our ancestors lagged behind in education, economics, social status, and life expectancy because of slavery and Jim Crow or is it more hideous because the current generations post-Civil Rights has not done enough to prevent our slippage and current conditions? Whereas it was deplorable for racism to prevent us from rising up to our highest levels during those times before us, it is despicable that we as New School Negroes have not harnessed the true meanings and sacrifices of the 4th of July – for our people and from all American people – into ensuring that the progress from 1852 onward through the 20th century did not erode into the gunfire, fatherlessness, hopelessness, and death that more Negroes in these new generations face than necessary today. I cry: if what Mr. Douglass spoke to in 1852 were horrible, then what we must speak to today is the hideousness that we will either eradicate from our legacy with our conscious efforts or tolerate in our souls with our lethargic egoism.
And whereas Mr. Douglass spoke to the meaning of the 4th of July for the Negro to provide a deeper understanding for the majority of those listening in Rochester that day – most of whom surely were not Black – I say that the meaning of the 4th of July for the New School Negro has meaning for all Americans.
Many of my political persuasion believe that the time is now to put aside racial designations in order to heal the nation. However, without an understanding of the New School Negro, there is no chance for reconciliation for those that are disproportionately disadvantaged. And if there is no chance for reconciliation of our disadvantaged, there is no hope for the political pursuits of small government, more liberty, and less separation of the masses, for no people depending on the scraps of a nation will advocate for the elimination of those scraps unless there is a collective agreement that decrees and promotes true equality so that the scraps are undesirable.
The meaning of the 4th of July today – for today’s abolitionists and others – must mean fostering a reconciliation where we are no longer intimidated by race and unwilling to acknowledge today’s separating factors on race, particularly if we are going to reclaim the lost potential in our cities and youth from our misguided desire to impress our definitions of life on those that live death daily. It is that plain; it is that simple. Mr. Douglass submitted that “…where all is plain there is nothing to be argued….” I submit the same today. If we are so willing to take back America, reclaim America’s liberty for its citizens, and scale back government for the sake of our children and grandchildren, how can we not be willing to simultaneously reclaim our cities from the confused and tortured hands of children acting like adults? If we are so willing to take back America in elections this fall and moving forward, how can we not be willing to also reclaim our common sense of reality when looking at statistics concerning where we worship God on Sundays, where we education our children during the week, and where our health, work, and leisure opportunities are unequally available? For a culture that rightfully rebels against the notion of predetermined poverty and destitution, our notion of liberty today can not equate to a sense of personal accountability for those that we acknowledge have not been availed the ability to account collectively for 50 years now. Our love for the celebrated 4th of July…our love for our embattled nation at this time…must embrace the American Dream by enacting the principles that realize this dream embraces the lost and the found, the forgotten and the remembered, in a fight to improve our common lot.
This 4th of July – as with the others over recent history – have been opportunities to implore us to champion our individual causes instead of inviting us to acquiesce to the collective cause for American advancement. What is this 4th of July truly mean to me, a New School Negro, or to others of us new generation Americans? Whereas Douglass said that it was a “…a day that reveals to (the Negro), more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim…”, I say that it is a day that makes clear to us that we must turn apart from our cowardice to confront the issues before us before we all are revealed to be constant victims of our apathy, our complacency, and our governments indefinitely. Douglass called our national celebration a sham before the nation was prompted to abhor its hypocrisy; today, our celebration will be hollow and meaningless if we are not urged to upend the hypocrisy of our times – times where Black millionaires mimic Black gangsters and White activists call for urban peace from their suburbs. He called our national greatness mere swelling vanity, yet I call it fleeting glory if our vanity continues us storing up treasures where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal while allowing our brethren to decay and rot and our ability to prosper as a nation dwindles even as our insulation from the problems erode around us. Mr. Douglass said that “…there is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour…” This is not true of our times, but there is no other nation in the world – for the New School Negro or for the new generation American – that can claim to have as many pillars of hope and examples of liberty before them in their history and, therefore, there is no higher shock in the hearts or deeper stain of blood on the hands of those Americans today that refuse to look history into the eyes, search deep within their own hearts, and strengthen their words and hands to act and contravene the misery around us.
Douglass concluded that he did not despair for our nation in spite of his scathing rebuttal of the 4th of July celebration in 1852 Rochester. Despite the years of apathy, selfishness, detachment, blind trust, blind hatred, misunderstandings, and limited growth, I have hope as well, not only because we are still a nation full of worshippers of the Most High God, but we are also a nation that takes pride in the ability to be a beacon to the world around us. Yet, are we willing to accept what makes us different as ethical Americans in order to embrace what makes us great as Americans? Are we now willing to acknowledge the differing levels of American life that exist within American culture in order to uplift the American Dream? As a New School Negro, I ask myself if I am able – and if we are willing – to accept the mantle of history, even as we are called to put down the comforts of this world. As a new generation American, I ask myself if I am able – and if we are willing – to step forward on faith to make the efforts of the past mean something to our children than mere footnotes of history to learn for a scholarly test, a score to be achieved for a moment but a lesson lost for a lifetime? If this 4th of July is to mean anything for the next 51 weeks - and if it is to mean something for the next 51 months or 51 years – it must be time for it to mean something from day to day, as if the 4th of July is July 5th, July 6th, July 16th, and so forth. The waving of our flag and the resonance of our patriotism must be the moxie that holds our debating form of republican government together with honor, respect, representativeness, and resolute honesty for the ethical obligations we hold to the past to bring about the enriching foundation for our future. If we can find this during this 4th of July cycle, perhaps fewer mothers will cry in the streets, fewer children will go without families or resources, and fewer people will rue their government. If we can claim this today, perhaps understanding and unity will ring where mistrust and dissension now reside. If we can make this so right now, perhaps the pessimism of Frederick Douglass’ 1852 speech will rightfully prompt us to forgo the American hypocrisy he loathed in Rochester and we loathe today to find the glory Douglass facilitated in his times, just as we labor to reclaim glory contemporarily.