Bored on the Fourth of July

I, too, barbecue, America. But, here's why I'm not feeling the fireworks.

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The Fourth of July is complicated for me.

It's my country's birthday and a national holiday. But I'm not going to wave a miniature Old Glory or dress up like Uncle Sam in red, white and blue. If I go out after dark to see fireworks and listen to John Philip Sousa's war music, it's because of the colorful and loud show, not some button-popping nationalistic pride. In fact, I may skip it; I did last year and the year before that.

I don't hate America. But, I don't love it. And I'm not leaving it, either. Such ambivalence makes Independence Day the most awkward holiday of them all for me.

I've read about how other black Americans are just as perplexed as I am by the Fourth of July and the annual orgies that seem to mock those of us who decline to join in their hollow celebrations.

Frederick Douglass, one of the greatest American patriots, used this day in 1852 to draw attention to the hypocrisy and disparity of the nation's ideals. That speech raised the question: "What to the slave is the Fourth of July?"

Of course, slavery is no more, abolished before the end of Douglass' life. However, what the great abolitionist said still reverberates in my soul:

"Fellow citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions!" Douglass said. "To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, 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."

Another great American, Langston Hughes, took another tack. During the Harlem Renaissance, he boldly asserted his native and national birthright, even if denied its bounty:

I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen