The Fourth of July, or the Fourth of You Lie as we black folks like to call it, is here again. And we’ll be inundated with bold-faced lies about American exceptionalism. You’ll hear it from television commentators. From politicians. From dudes wearing a red, white and blue t-shirt…made in China.
They’ll talk about how we’re a country that believes in democracy, just as the United States Supreme Court decided last week to allow partisan gerrymandering to disempower minorities. Commentators will spout platitudes about the wisdom of the so-called Founding Fathers, even as they all benefited from creating a white supremacist society built on the backs of black men and women.
But the most egregious thing you’ll hear while scarfing down ribs and non-Becky prepared potato salad? That we’re better than what’s happening under the Trump administration. That Trump doesn’t represent the true America. That this current time is an aberration and abnormal. And to that, I say one word…
This is not to say that America doesn’t do good things. We do. There’s a long list of good things we do, and I’m not gonna waste good column space recounting them. But it’s also important to note that America’s side hustle has always been cruelty, and when it comes to cruelty on this July 4, business is good in the hood.
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As we celebrate our founding, never forget that desperate Honduran, Guatemalan and El Salvadorian undocumented immigrants who yearn to be free from the violence and economic depravity in their own lands, are being held in cages. By America. The same America that once held enslaved Africans in cages.
An America that once deemed the Chinese undesirable for immigration, and thus, held them in captivity on Angel Island for months. The same America that put Japanese Americans in concentration camps, ironically, the same ones some immigrants are being placed today.
Stripping children from their immigrant parents? America sold enslaved black children down the river as a commodity, like they were cotton or flour, and not human beings. Native American parents would see their children put up for adoption for white families as late as the 1950s, most who could be purchased for as little as ten dollars.
Yeah, wave that flag.
Yet we don’t talk about that. We never talk about. That doesn’t fit the narrative of the good guys in the white hats coming to the rescue. Our cruelty always sits just below the surface…unless you’re the one taking the lumps. Then it’s right there in front of you.
The thing is, Donald Trump is a profoundly ignorant man, but make no mistake, he’s not a dumb man. He knows that causing pain for black and brown people is not only good optics but good politics for a large percentage of the American voting public. ‘Make America Great Again’ translates to ‘Make America Cruel as Fuck,’ and he’s been doing a good job making that happen.
As the Trump administration digs into our American cruelty DNA, they know that white folks will take crumbs, as long as they can be entertained each night by the cries and anguish of desperate immigrants.
I find it hilarious that news outlets like CNN and MSNBC send their reporters to Middle American diners in search of white people who are disturbed by the scenes of immigrants being maltreated. And they can’t find them. Why? Because these same people would season their burgers with the tears of immigrant babies if they could. They just wish Trump wouldn’t tweet about it.
However, the cardinal rule is that the cruelty can’t touch them as white people. Or as one white Trump voter said during the government shutdown in 2019…
“He’s not hurting the people he needs to be.”
If this Fourth of July were to be completely honest, and we would celebrate America’s true exceptionalism by celebrating those communities America has hurt.
From millions of households, you’d hear the brilliance of Miles Davis, Etta James, The Roots, and other black musical geniuses, instead of the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ by the slaveholding Francis Scott Key.
We’d eat Indian fry bread, instead of hot dogs and burgers, as we remembered how Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, Choctaw nations, and their enslaved Africans, suffered from ethnic cleansing during the Trail of Tears. A Trail of Tears ordered and overseen by Trump’s hero, Andrew Jackson.
We’d march down Pennsylvania Avenue to protest the government’s desire to control the bodies of women. We’d lay our bodies in front of the military industrial complex that Trump is using as steel Viagra to solve a limp American psyche.
And finally, we’d storm the private concentration camps that hold human beings in appalling conditions. We’d stop them from operating. We’d quit trying to shame the operators because they can’t be shamed. But we’d stop them.
Because the American cruelty that puts brown people in these camps is the same cruelty that allows poisoned brown water for black people in Flint…and then rewards the former governor with a Harvard fellowship for a job well done.
But I’m an optimist. As an African American, you have to be an optimist. You have to believe that your country will live up to ideals. And one day, you’ll celebrate a new version of the Fourth of July. You and your ancestors have given too much to this country to not be.
That said, don’t get it twisted. I love what this country called American can be, just not what it is right now. And right now, it’s more America the Cruel than America the Beautiful. And that’s nothing to celebrate.