In the 10-plus years since The Root was founded, our writers have always celebrated the Fourth of July with the knowledge that America’s original Independence Day celebration only applied to white men. Since then, this land of freedom and opportunity has graciously allowed its black citizens incremental but not-quite-full access to liberty and justice through a brutal layaway plan that included slavery, Jim Crow and a lot of racism.
While the only Independence Day we acknowledge is Will Smith’s, writers at The Root have expounded on their complicated relationship with this country for more than a decade. So for this Fourth of July, we decided to list, in no particular order, excerpts from a few of our favorite pieces on America’s birthday, freedom and our wait for a true day of independence.
1. Jason Johnson’s history of the national anthem still goes viral every few months.
I know more people who can recite ‘America, F—k Yeah’ from Team America than ‘America the Beautiful.’ ‘Yankee Doodle’. No one older than a fifth-grader in chorus class remembers the full song. ‘God Bless America’. More people know the Rev. Jeremiah Wright remix than the actual full lyrics of the song.
2. Terrell Jermaine Star explained why patriotism is not black America’s thing.
America’s inception was never designed to accommodate the liberty and freedoms of its nonwhite people. When soldiers fought against Britain during the Revolutionary War, it was a victory for white people. The American flag was raised in victory in 1783 as its black citizens, who were still not legally full human beings at the time, continued to suffer in slavery some 80 years after the fact.
3. But The Root’s Editor-in-Chief Danielle Belton explained why patriotism is for black people.
The patriotism of a black American is the patriotism of someone who loves America even though America has violently not loved that person. It is a one-sided love, so you dispense with the cheesy T-shirts and flag pins. Those don’t really mean anything anyway. Anyone can wear a T-shirt. But what are you willing to do to prove that love? We wear an unrecognized shirt of patriotism, red with freshly spilled blood, white with the color of our broken bones. We deal not in empty words but in actions, challenging America to live up to its dream and be for the prosperity of all.
4. Very Smart Brothas’ Panama Jackson thinks fireworks are evolving.
Did some new wave of groundbreaking (literally) fireworks just hit the market and D.C. is the test market, or did everybody get a raise and go for the top-shelf illegal fireworks?
5. Sam Fullwood III thinks the Fourth of July is just boring.
All this whooping and hollering on the nation’s birthday is painful because even when I squeeze myself into the party, I remain excluded. So, yes, I now accept Bradley’s defeatist corollary: “Nothing I shall ever accomplish or discover or earn or inherit or buy or sell or give away—nothing I can ever do—will outweigh the fact of my race in determining my destiny.”
6. But if you are gonna celebrate, here’s some music.
Although I’ve never read the liner notes, I can almost guarantee that the Gap Band made this song at a cookout. It is too perfect. When you listen to it, you almost get smoke in your eyes. If you think this song is about lavishing complimentary praise on a beautiful woman, you’ve never had my Aunt Marvell’s potato salad. If you don’t dance when you taste it, you will at least shuffle back and forth like you’re in a church choir. It’s outstanding. Girl, it knocks me out.
7. Ashley Velez went back to her hometown to see what Independence Day means to Philly’s black residents.
I wasn’t considered a citizen on July 4, 1776. So how can I consider that day a day of freedom?
8. Danielle Belton explains that you can still have a good time on July Fourth
I learned that my devouring of BBQ on America’s birthday was and is not an endorsement. Sometimes ribs are just ribs. Potato salad is just a salad. Sitting out in the sun to enjoy time with friends and family is about your friends and family. And the Fourth of July is the celebration of a country that up until the 1990s would have happily shut down a bridge to keep me from celebrating it.
9. Damon Young broke down Obama’s last White House cookout but missed on his Jesse Williams prediction.
2. Who will be the White guy holding his own at the Spades table? (Probably Joe Biden. Actually, definitely Joe Biden.) And who will be the waaaaaay too awkward White guy who just hasn’t been around this much Blackness before and doesn’t know how to handle himself? (My guess? Paul Ryan.)
3. Is Jesse Williams invited? If so, who will make his plate? (This is a trick question. Because Jesse Williams and his wife definitely make plates for each other.)
10. On the day a jury acquitted the officer who killed Philando Castille, I wrote about America’s penchant for injustice.
Because America is bullshit.
The truth is, it’s all bullshit. Whatever you tell your son or daughter to do when the police stops him or her is bullshit. The idea that it means anything to “know your rights” is bullshit. It’s bullshit for anyone to suggest that a black man should ever trust a police officer in this country. It’s bullshit for anyone without white skin to ever believe that he or she enjoys the full and equal protection of the law. It’s bullshit to believe that America gives a fuck about you and won’t put a gun to your head and pull the trigger for no reason at all. And even though it is not a new revelation, it still hurts my gut.
I imagine that Philando Castile loved America. I bet that he thought she was fair. I bet he thought that telling a police officer that he was carrying a gun was the right thing to do, right up until the bullet entered his skull. In that instant, he probably wondered how this could be—how he could love something so much and do everything right by her, only to have her stand over him and watch the blood trickle down his cheek, the same way she had stolen the breath from countless black bodies before.
I bet America celebrated a little bit. I bet she even smiled as Philando Castile descended into the infinite darkness, still loving her, confused and wet with pieces of his own brain fluid.
Imagine getting fucked like that.
Happy Birthday, ‘Merica