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What Does the 4th of July Mean to Americans in 2024?

In 1852, Fredrick Douglass asked, “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?” He answered that question, stating: 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. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. 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.”

A black and white photo shows Fredrick Douglass staring pensively. He has a goatee and full afro.

On July 2, 2024, the Supreme Court decided that Presidents have immunity from any crimes committed while in office. Ironically, the holiday celebrating freedom from the English monarchy comes days after the law gives the president the same power as a monarch. 

So today, July 4, 2024, I ask what the 4th of July is to Americans.

What is the 4th of July to Breonna Taylor, Ayana Presley, Atatiana Jefferson, Korryn Gaines, India Kager, and many others and the family and friends who loved them?

What is the 4th of July to Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, George Floyd, and so many many others and the family and friends who loved them?

What is the 4th of July to Michelle Henry, Brandon "Tayy Dior" Thomas, Kita Bee, Starr Brown, and the other Black transwomen, their friends and family murdered each year in this country? (At least 18 Black trans people murdered in 2024)

What is the 4th of July to Black Americans who have to warn their children about how police may murder them with impunity?

A collage of pictures shows four different protests. The picture on the top right a person holds a sign that says say her name, Breonna Taylor, next to that picture, a people hold a purple sign that says Black Trans Lives Matter, on the bottom right a sign says Justice for Mike Brown and next to that several signs say she could've been me, save our girls, I am Atatiana

What is the 4th of July to the parents of Nyah Mway, who moved here from  Myanmar to escape state-sanctioned violence only to have their child murdered by American police? 

What is the 4th of July to the hundreds of missing Indigenous women across the country?

What is the 4th of July to Indigenous people living on a fraction of their land with broken treaties and destructive pipelines going through their land?

What is the 4th of July to political prisoners like Mumia Abu-Jamal, Sundiata Acol, Delbert Orr Africa, Eddie Goodman Africa, Jalil Muntaqim, Mutulu Shakur, and the other political prisoners who are in jail for fighting for freedom in America?

What is the 4th of July to Palestinian Americans whose tax dollars are being used to murder their family at home?

What is the 4th of July to students tear gassed, arrested, and kicked out of school for peaceful protests?

A white cop holds down a white woman screaming at a campus protest

What is the 4th of July to Haitian Americans who have witnessed the United States destablize their country for years?

What is the 4th of July to Congolese Americans who know that American companies responsible for genocide and modern-day slavery in their countries will face no punishment or accountability 

What is the 4th of July for Sudanese Americans who have witnessed the United States' culpability in destabilizing their country for years?

What is the 4th of July to the family of Antoinette “Bonnie” Candia-Bailey, who committed suicide because of racially based bullying at her job?

What is the 4th of July to students in Florida, where teachers are no longer free to assign or read books written by authors of color?

What is the 4th of July for immune-compromised folks who no longer have the freedom to leave their homes because COVID-19 protections have disappeared?

What is the 4th of July to imprisoned folks who are still working on plantations for as little as $0.33 a day?

A group of Black men are walking on a dirt road while a white man rides a horse, clearly ready to ensure the Black man are working on the field.

What is the 4th of July to the thousands of folks incarcerated for cannabis possession despite it being a multibillionaire industry?

What is the 4th of July to the families of Black women killed during childbirth because of medical racism?

What is the 4th of July to the 28 states with anti-DEI legislation, the school boards across the country that have been hijacked by Moms for Liberty, or the corporations who have defunded their DEI teams?

Two elderly white people hold a sign that says BAN CRT AND DEI

What is the 4th of July to a country that protects private corporations and investments more than its people?

What is the 4th of July in a country where, in 1854, Fredrick Douglass stated that “An American judge gets ten dollars for every victim he consigns to slavery, and five when he fails to do so? The oath of any two villains is sufficient, under this hell-black enactment, to send the most pious and exemplary black man into the remorseless jaws of slavery!” in 2024, Arizona was forced to pay a private prison for not sending enough people to jail.

What is the 4th of July in a country founded on religious freedom while in 2024, Kentucky now requires bible lessons to be taught in the classroom?

So again, I ask, what does the 4th of July mean to Americans in 2024?

As we reflect on the meaning of the 4th of July in 2024, it becomes evident that for many, the celebration of freedom and independence is a stark contrast to their daily reality. The disconnect between the nation’s ideals and the lived experiences of millions of Americans is not just a historical artifact—it is a present-day crisis. The echoes of Frederick Douglass’s words ring louder than ever, reminding us that our nation’s declaration of liberty and justice is, for many, a hollow promise.

This day, instead of uncritical patriotism, calls for a reckoning with the systemic injustices that persistently plague our society. It urges us to confront the uncomfortable truths about police brutality, racial discrimination, and economic inequality that continue to undermine the very foundations of freedom and equality. It challenges us to question the moral and ethical underpinnings of a system that often values profit over people and perpetuates cycles of violence and oppression.

ShiftED CEO sits on a brown couch wearing an orange dress with her daughter sitting on her lap wearing a Black dress

As a Black mom, the 4th of July holds a complex place in my heart. Amidst the pain and injustices that our community endures, I choose to practice radical hope. As some will commemorate this 4th of July, I am committing to tangible actions to bridge the gap between America’s ideals and realities. I choose to tell my daughter the truth about this country and help her shift through what that means for us and our community. We stand in solidarity with those whose voices have been silenced, whose lives have been marginalized, and whose struggles for justice continue unabated. We will continue to advocate for policies that protect the vulnerable, uplift the oppressed, and dismantle the structures of injustice that deny so many their humanity. The work is far from over, but together, we can build a more just and compassionate society.

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