It’s been a wild year. 2020, only halfway through, has already thrown us many (maybe too many?) curveballs…
Usually my July 4th weekend looks and feels very different. Most July 4th weekends, we decamp to Fire Island - my happy place. Michael, my husband, and I met out there, had our first kiss on a quiet dim Fire Island path, and ultimately fell in love drinking tequila and swimming in the Ocean. We have indoctrinated our children into loving Fire Island and the beach. Each July 4th, the town of Ocean Beach in Fire Island has a huge parade that culminates with a community BBQ. Stick with me - the ode to Fire Island part is done…
My point is - usually Summer feels a bit more carefree - hell, I try to not wear a bra or shoes.
But this Summer - we are socially distancing, we are wearing masks (YES COVID IS STILL A THING AND JUST WEAR A DAMN MASK), and (maybe just because I am just waking up) everything is feeling heavy - like there is so much work to do that we shouldn't waste time on frivolous barbecues, games of catch on the beach, or late nights cooking s'mores outdoors.
More specifically, WTF do we do with July 4th??? Again, I am sure many people for many years have struggled with this - and I would be self-centered (and filled with white privledge) to think that just because I am now questioning this it is now just an issue… So, I decided to do a little research project and turned to my trusty smart friend Google. (No, don’t burden your Black friends). And Yes - I am late to the party. So, in case you too want some different (not necessarily unique) perspective on July 4th this year, keep reading. If not - see ya!
As early as 1852 (yes - over 150 years ago) Frederick Douglass delivered a speech now entitled “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July” exploring the constitutional and values-based arguments against the continued existence of slavery in the US. Douglass orated that positive statements about American values, such as liberty, citizenship, and freedom, were an offense to the enslaved population of the United States because of their lack of freedom, liberty, and citizenship. Douglass said that slaves owed nothing to and had no positive feelings towards the founding of the United States: "What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us?...What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.”
In 1863, eleven years after Douglass’ speech, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. And it wasn’t until 1865, two years after that, when the last enslaved people in Texas learned that they were no longer in bondage (Juneteenth - remember?).
Now - jump to “modern" times…
In 2012, Chris Rock tweeted “Happy white peoples Independence Day, the salves weren’t free but I’m sure they enjoyed the fireworks.”
Charles Blockson, a historian, scholar and author of African-American culture and history explains, "For African-Americans, the commemoration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 — and its promises of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness while slavery was still the law of the land — is complicated." “The Fourth of July conjures up thoughts of “progress,” “hypocrisy,” and, “in a sense, hope,” as well as a “miseducation.We’re still fighting for our rights,” he said.
Arielle Grey wrote last year, "Douglass’ speech is as relevant today as it was in 1852. Our current political climate speaks volumes on our country’s interpretation of freedom. If you are not white, your freedom is conditional, not a guarantee.” Reminder: Last year this time, evidence of the inhumane treatment of migrant children in detention centers at the border circulated. In these detention centers, migrants were stuffed into small areas and cells, without reliable access to food and water. Children in these centers had no access to regular meals or medical care and were without clean clothing or a way to bathe themselves.
And - powerfully, Ibram X Kendi, a professor and the director of The Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University, the National Book Award–winning author of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America and How to Be an Antiracist wrote last year at this time in The Atlantic, "To save the Union, or, really, to create a conceptual Union, we must be saved from a myth as devout and destructive as American exceptionalism: that freedom comes before power.” "To believe freedom comes before power is to stifle the struggle to equalize power. It is to reinforce the power of the extremely wealthy white men who declared independence years ago. There is no more docile slave than one who believes he or she is free.” "I am free, even though policy makers refuse to guarantee my right to vote, to grant me a habitable Earth, to grant me high-quality schools and health care and air and food, to grant me fair policing, trials, competition for jobs and other opportunities, to guarantee reprisal when policies and people are unfair or lethal, are farming inequity and injustice. That I am free when politicians and businesses can easily prey on me and get away with it. That I am free when an armed white man can run up on my unarmed black body and murder me and call me a threat and get away with it. That I am free when they keep locking me up in dead-end neighborhoods and schools and jobs and prisons. As a resistant black man in America, I’ve never felt like a slave. But I’ve never felt free. And I understand why. I have the power to resist policy, a resistance that ensures I’m not a slave. When Americans struggle for the power to be free, they are afflicting and revolutionizing and refining the United States. They are the Patriots. Patriotism on the Fourth of July is resistance.”
So - here we are - July 4th 2020 - the heaviest summer of my lifetime - as we are hopefully in the midst of the greatest social movement of our time - the Black Lives Matter movement. But for that to be the case, for this to be the greatest movement of our time, we need to ask ourselves, what can we do differently this year? And I don’t mean the lame list that the NY Times put together for things to do on July 4th weekend that weakly pays homage to slavery by throwing in a token nod. But what, as a well meaning white woman in wellness going to do this weekend and beyond - in short, keep showing up! Keep pushing race and accountabilty to the top of our to do list and ensure that Poplar priorities allyship.
Earlier this month we shared that we are kicking off four main initiatives:
1. Identify, carry, and promote more Black-owned brands & products - @15percentpledge
2. Identify and employ more Black content creators/contributors
3. Encourage and facilitate dialogue around the role race plays in the wellness and cannabis industries
4. Rally our community to make financial donations
And I am proud to say that we are making progress! For starters, with your help, we raised over $3,000 for the Women’s Prison Association.
We have also been ideating around more ways to facilitate change. And, I think we have some good ideas - big and small… More to come on the big - but re the small, for this weekend, my to do list includes:
1. Talking to my children about slavery.
This is our reading list
- "Love Twelve Miles Long" (2011) by Glenda Armand, illustrated by Colin Bootman
- "Etched in Clay: The Life of Dave, Enslaved Potter and Poet" (2013) by Andrea Cheng
- "Light in the Darkness: A Story About How Slaves Learned in Secret" (2013) by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James Ransome
- "Words Set Me Free: the Story of Young Frederick Douglass" (2012) by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James Ransome
2. Adding “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July” to our Declaration of Independence reading aloud.