On this Fourth of July, a holiday meant to celebrate the independence of a nation founded on genocide and slavery that is currently denying its own promise to welcome newcomers to its shores and grant equal rights to its citizens, we asked 13 cultural leaders—activists, writers, politicians, astrologers, fashion designers, to reflect on what the holiday means to them.
"Let's roll up our fear, light it on fire, and be that interfering firework in a sky of haze and pain."
by Victoria Ruiz
Victoria Ruiz is the frontwoman of punk band Downtown Boys.
July fourth has always left a bad taste in my vision of what celebration means. There might have been some good family barbecues, but luckily I come from a working class family that uses a barbecues often to bring us together for $20 of carne asada and fresh corn tortillas. And this year? I think of the July 4th, 1852 speech given by Frederick Douglass, an abolitionist, when he spoke directly to a group of people about July 4 marking the signing of the Declaration of Independence and how the signers came to care more of property than of people. Yet, there is this call, "No nation can now shut itself up from the surrounding world and trot round in the same old path of its fathers without interference." Let us reverb the interference of 1852 in 2018. Let's roll up our fear, light it on fire, and be that interfering firework and interfere in a sky of haze and pain, reflecting on an endless ocean at the end of our current war zones on the land. This July 4th, may we continue to interfere to abolish the police state.
"The 4th of July for me is a reminder that it is our duty as Americans to express dissent."
by Rama Issa-Ibrahim
Rama Issa-Ibrahim is an activist who works as the Executive Director of the Arab American Association of New York.
The 4th of July for me is a reminder that it is our duty as Americans to express dissent. The U.S. has a long history of genocide, and slavery, and separating children, and policies that have been really detrimental to immigrants and people of color. Our systems are anchored in white supremacy. So, for me, the 4th of July is a reminder of our history as a nation and [an opportunity to consider] what we want our nation to be for the next generations.
You think about the red and white and blue and the pride of being American. Immigrants are probably one of the most proud Americans in many ways, because they found refuge in this country that they weren't able to find back home. I speak for myself as an immigrant, coming from a family of immigrants, married to another immigrant. We are very proud to be part of the fabric of this nation, but what we're really proud of is that in this nation, we are given the rights to really go against these policies that have been so detrimental to communities of color and immigrants and Native Americans. The 4th of July is a reminder that my duty as an American is to express my descent against my government, especially when the government is on the wrong side of history.
The beauty of the United States is that we're allowed to have intersecting identities, that we're allowed to be American-Arab, American-Syrian, American-Latina. To not have one homogenous America, but really just a bunch of people that make up the fabric of our country. If you're going against all the different pieces that make America so great, which is all of us, with all our backgrounds and different experiences and different ethnicities, if you are attacking that essence of it, then the whole experiment of America just falls flat.
"July 4th is a day to embrace the entirety of this country's history and to meditate on what, might we become if all who were here had access to the resources needed to pursue a life of meaning and purpose."
by Chani Nicholas
Chani Nicholas is an activist and astrologer with a cult following for her intersectional reading of the stars.
To me, July 4th is an invitation to read An Indigenous People's History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Oritz or books like it. It is an invitation to read accounts of the thriving communities and many histories of First Nations People pre colonization, as well as understanding what happened once settler colonialists arrived here.
July 4th is a reminder of slavery. Japanese interment camps. Segregation. Muslim Bans. Race riots. Mass incarceration. No Jews Allowed. The AIDS crisis. Crosses burning. Hopes in flames. Children in cages. Gender non-conforming, trans, and queer folks criminalized and incarcerated. Black folks murdered by police with impunity.
Nationalism relies on homogeny, and here that means white, cis-normative male, heteronormative, able-bodied, and wealthy. If you aren't that, this nation's laws don't serve or protect you from much.
July 4th is a day that reminds me that my ancestors got to escape concentration camps, persecution, and all kinds of horrors because of settler colonialism and slavery. It means that the American Dream was open to my family because of their proximity to whiteness in American society. It means that I directly benefit from the horrors that befall those original to these lands, and those brought here enslaved, shackled in chains, forced to build a nation that was never meant for them.
July 4th is a day to dismantle any aspect of our privilege that we can. It is a day to remain active. Get calling, communicating, and mobilizing myself and my fellow recipients of this unjust system, towards justice. A day to think about where my money, time and attention goes. This is a day to protest the Muslim ban by calling my Member of Congress. This is a day to demand that my Members of Congress follow the McConnell Rule and accept no Supreme Court confirmations until new senate is in place. This is a day to find a local or National organization to support like RAICES, a non profit that provides free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrant children, families and refugees in Central and South Texas.
July 4th is a day to embrace the entirety of this country's history and to meditate on what, in light of it, might we become if all who were here had access to the resources needed to pursue a life of meaning and purpose. And then to move boldly toward that vision.
"In my youth, the 4th was a chance to be emerged in love despite whatever usual social antics was happening in a black neighborhood during the summer."
by Abdu Ali
Abdu Ali is a queer artist bringing Baltimore club music to the world.
I never felt any political way about the Fourth of July. For me now and as a child, the 4th means that I get to spend summer time with my family and partake in all of the traditional black American holiday libations. For me it's a romanticized nostalgia that makes me feel at home. In my youth, the 4th was a chance to be emerged in love despite whatever usual social antics was happening in a black neighborhood during the summer. In the streets of Baltimore hot days conjured hella tension in the air for the wounds of Black American oppression to show tf out and bleed out like water coming spewing out of a fire hydrant. Yet on the 4th, that uneasiness magically dissipated. We would have hella meats on the grill, kiddie pools on the concrete, snowballs, and play spades all day long. I think most Black folk in America never care to honor these holidays for what they are meant for.
Why would we?
Today Black Americans have the same unemployment rates as we did in the 1960s, we have the same amount of ownership of homes or land as we did in the 1960s. We have two times more Black folk in jail then we did in the 1960s.
We are still kept out of the American dream! Our ankles are still hunted to feed the mouthes of shackles.
We are still struggling to obtain a piece of mind and the ability to safely skip down any American block, as our bodies are always a target for a myriad of different violences. As Black folk in America, we are still fighting for true independence to be as free as the air we fuckin breathe. Black Americans have turned traditional American holidays into moments of showing how much we love another through food, laughing, and sometimes arguing (lmao) despite the fuckery of it all.
"We are very hypocritical as a nation, but that duality and the vision is still out there."
by Bob Bland
Bob Bland is a designer, activist, and co-chair of the 2017 Women's March.
None of us are free until all of us are free so, we should start with the question; independence day for whom? We should use July fourth as a reminder and an opportunity to talk to those close to us—our family, our friends, our loved ones—about those who are not free in America. About those who are being separated from their families right now, whether it be through detention centers, or for-profit prisons that separate so many families, through Muslim bans and other types of bans that prevent refugees and asylum seekers from their legal right to seek safety within this country.
[We should] reflect on the history and the hypocrisy of what it means to be an American from 1776 to today and talk about our history of the theft of Indigenous land, of slavery, of appropriation. But then also, of resistance and of the fight for Civil Rights, of the fight against monarchy. We are very hypocritical as a nation, but that duality and the vision is still out there. That true promise exists and it can be ours but we have to fight for it every generation. And so, I wouldn't call it celebrating, but I would consider it to be a very important moment of reflection of where were at as a nation that everyone should participate in.
"These celebrations ultimately create space for Americans to share with the world our collective motto, 'We are better than you.'"
by Cha'ves Jamall
Cha'ves Jamall is a pop artist and creative director in Brooklyn.
The 4th of July is a spirit day like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Toga Day. These celebrations are all designed to create a false sense of connective community which ultimately creates space for Americans to share with the world our collective motto, "We are better than you." Many of us have the day off. We wear our red, white, and blue; we barbecue and revel in our freedoms. Ba da ba ba ba, I'm lovin' it. While there is more to say about freedoms in this country and who can afford them, I'll ask this question instead: "What are we sacrificing?" Certainly, America has strong views of how humans should animate this rock, but that's just one theory. Being the loudest in the room means that we are not necessarily hearing the nuances of human existence. We all live in different corners of the room, and the sun and the moon shines on our faces in different ways. This 4th of July I implore my fellow American and global citizens to take a moment to whisper, to hear the voices that aren't being heard. To take a moment to recognize that the fallacy that we live in comes at a cost.
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"It is the most attractive ad so far in human history."
by Private Policy
Private Policy is a New York-based streetwear brand founded by Siying Qu and Haoran Li.
4th of July is a one day commercial of "The Best Nation." Very well advertised, one of my favorite ads. On the "ads," there are slogans, like "The American Dream," "Freedom," "Equality," "Wealth"... Well, same as all ads, some is true, most is exaggerated, and a few negative facts are hidden. However, it is the most attractive ad so far in human history, such a unique country built upon ideologies and destined to make the world better somehow. May it still hold up to its slogans, so its customers can get what they paid for.
"What is the demon that says 'apolitical' as if we are not talking about people's lives? Jump in, your time is now."
by Viva Ruiz
Viva Ruiz is an artist, activist, and the creator of the Thank God For Abortion project.
On this 4th of July, I invite us all to go deeper into awareness, deeper into commitment, to stand with those among us the rising nationalist white power regime is attacking. I implore you to disrupt whenever, wherever you can. I appeal to white people to practice actively seeing themselves as white in a white supremacist society, to say that out loud in a mirror every day if you could. Feel the context of that reality, where your placement is in that. I bet it would create a heart softening and resolve. I bet it would build an accountability that we need you to have, in the personal and political. I'm praying on that.
Celebrate independence and revolution by following any one of a number of existing organizations that are doing the work, and have been doing the work. You don't need to invent anything. RAICES, Make the Road, conmijente, Black Lives Matter, Black Trans Media , Sylvia Rivera Law Project: pick one and give time and money. Find Black organizations, find organizations led by people of color and add your support. Wait on instructions, because everyone needs your help and voice added. Action is the best antidote for helplessness, and our action is needed.
Our dystopian future has always been here. If you are just arriving to that, you must have more energy and resources than the rest of us. Get to work.
The 4th of July is a day to honor our ancestors who were victims of this imperialist genocidal state.
I thank them, feel love for them, and ask for guidance. It works on many different levels. You can do this, too.
What will unite the left? I don't know, but I am interested, and in the spirit of that and in the face of these anguish-filled times, all of this is an offering for some use towards that end. There are so many more of us that believe in equality and liberation, so why complacency? What is the demon that says "apolitical" as if we are not talking about people's lives? I pray that we can and are awakening each day to our force, and action is where you can feel the tangibility of that force; it makes you want to do more. Jump in, your time is now.
"Our children deserve to see what it means to be a real patriot."
by Deb Haaland
Deb Haaland is running to be the first Native American woman elected to Congress.
4th of July is a time to reflect on the profound impact native nations and communities of color have had in shaping this country. If our past is prologue, then there is still much work to be done. Today, communities of color and poor communities are still facing barriers to basic civil and human rights including, safe and affordable housing, access to quality healthcare, and a good public education. In 2018, far too many of us are racially profiled and unfairly targeted for deportation—even Veterans who have served our country with honor.
Fierce champions need a seat at the table. There are so many leaders, across race, gender, geography, and faiths, that are ready to speak out and work hard to truly make our nation better for all people. Our children deserve to see what it means to be a real patriot.
Simply put, there is still much work to be done. I'm optimistic that together we can all play a positive role in building a better American Dream for everyone. This 4th of July is a reminder to continue the fight for justice, respect, love for our great nation. There is nothing more patriotic!
"The 4th of July to me, is more like the 400th lie that's been told to me. Yet fireworks go off, we get our best outfits, cook, and drink the night away. It's a complicated day."
by Emilia Ortiz
Emilia Ortiz is a spiritual advisor based in Brooklyn.
The 4th of July to me, is more like the 400th lie that's been told to me. Like a lie though, it's complicated. The sentiment of independence and the fight for liberty is easily commercialized and very popular. It isn't the true spirit of this day. At least, not for people of color. That, combined with what is currently occurring related to immigration (and has been), police violence towards people of color, it's clear the real sentiment is exclusive rather than inclusive. At the same time, a bit of celebration is what can help us have the stamina to continue the fight. It's one of the many complicated parts of American history. Stolen indigenous land, Black people were not free, and now, many people of color question if much progress truly has been made. Yet fireworks go off, we get our best outfits, cook, and drink the night away. It's a complicated day.
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"It means the celebration of a genocide of Indigenous people."
by Lachrista Greco
Lachrista Greco is a writer, speaker, and activist who created Guerrilla Feminism, an online feminist platform.
To me, the 4th of July means the celebration of a genocide of Indigenous people. It means pain, sorrow, and inescapable trauma. I have never celebrated this "holiday" and never will. Instead, I will remember the many Indigenous people who lost their lives and the many Indigenous people still here having to watch their land continue to be taken from them.
"I no longer acknowledge the 4th of July as a national day of celebration."
by Merryl Spence
Merryl Spence is a Brooklyn-based activist and creator.
I'm a white, cis gender, enabled, queer woman. After becoming involved with various social justice movements over 7 years ago I'm now in the daily practice of unpacking, checking and processing my white privilege.
My ancestors are colonizers. This is not something to celebrate but to own and do the work to help dismantle white supremacy. Colonization and the continued celebration of, i.e. July 4th, is white supremacy. To continue to celebrate the false history of the United States perpetuates the trauma and rule of white supremacy on Native Americans, black people and people of color. Of the 56 white male property owners who signed the Declaration, 27 were slave owners. These were racist, torturous and brutally genocidal white men.
Thomas Jefferson was the primary drafter of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson enslaved 175 black women, men, and children in 1776 and 267 black people by 1822. He was a rapist pedophile who began raping Sally Hemings when she was 14-years-old.
I no longer acknowledge the 4th of July as a national day of celebration.
"Instead of celebrating a kind of independence that continues to evade large swaths of the population, I hope to use the 4th of July to celebrate the resilience and wisdom of those who lived, fought, and died so that I could be here to continue taking up space and resisting."
Sammus is the stage name of Enongo Lumumba-Kasong, who is a rapper, producer, activist, and PhD student at Cornell University.
When I was a kid, I wanted nothing more than to be seen as a real American. From my lengthy oft-butchered Congolese name to the West African pop songs my mom blasted in the car, I felt like my otherness was inescapable. And then I grew up a little and I listened and traveled and studied and realized all the things that any American who stops talking for just a moment realizes about the US: that American leaders are known the world over to be bullies with a bad habit of throwing rocks and missiles and hiding their hands. That they love to season the ingredients that engender civil unrest in other nations and then condemn the chaos using racist and xenophobic rhetorics masked as patriotism. That America is indeed exceptional among so-called developed nations in its rates of incarceration, its high maternal mortality rate, particularly for Black women, and the number of its citizens killed by gunfire.
I also know that I love the America I've managed to carve out for myself and all the people who have made this country legible and habitable to me. I've loved having the chance to travel all across the US through my music, meeting other artists and activists and kind-hearted strangers, and taking mental snapshots of how people in other cities live. I love the Black woman I walked past yesterday at the Buffalo Exchange in downtown Philly who proclaimed, "Yaaaas, sis" as I sauntered by, swinging my braids and rocking a brand new romper.
I recently finished teaching a course on science and feminism. In my final lecture I focused on recent calls by students in South Africa to "decolonize science" and all that such an undertaking would entail. Specifically I talked about how some student activists have argued that science as a whole is a product of western modernity and therefore the entire enterprise needs to be thrown away and rebooted. While this critique is rooted in the right place, such a perspective risks erasing the important foundations laid by Black and Brown people throughout the history of science and medicine.
In a similar way, I think one can acknowledge that this country and so many of its citizens are trash in a multitude of ways while appreciating those pockets of glory and brilliance that could only be made in America. I refuse to reject America outright because to me, doing so rejects all of the Black and Brown folx who helped to shape the identity of this country just as much if not more than George Washington or any other old white guy we always read about. So instead of celebrating a kind of independence that continues to evade large swaths of the population, I hope to use the 4th of July to celebrate the resilience and wisdom of those who lived, fought, and died so that I could be here to continue taking up space and resisting all the "fake news" about what it means to be a "real" American.
Reporting by Vrinda Jagota, Michael Love Michael, Justin Moran and Claire Valentine