What Independence Day Means to Me
Updated: Aug 4
Fireworks! Red, white and blue, cold and refreshing soda, cheeseburgers, and delicious watermelon. Those are just some of the things that remind me of the Fourth of July. At least, that’s how I saw it when I was younger. It was a day in the sun outside with family and friends. We would play yard games like corn hole or frisbee, and hang out outside with food until the sun would set and it was time for the show.
Of course, I knew that the reason we celebrated on the Fourth of July was because it was our Independence Day, but I never really thought about what the liberation of the 13 colonies from England meant in the context of our history. I was educated to celebrate the event, not reflect on it, so to me it has always been a summery American holiday defined by an exceptionally festive and patriotic atmosphere.
This year, with talk of making Juneteenth a national holiday, I’ve found myself scrutinizing the day, thinking about what days are considered (national or federal) holidays and why. America is a country of immigrants, and the Fourth of July commemorates the success of White immigrants in claiming their independence. But the United States is not the same country it was in 1776. It is much more complicated and beautiful than a single holiday is capable of encompassing. Essentially, I realized I do not feel the same patriotism surrounding the Fourth of July that I did when I was younger.
Most people know that on July 4th, 1776, the 13 colonies officially adopted the Declaration of Independence, which is why we celebrate on the fourth. But not everyone knows that the Continental Congress voted for Independence on July 2nd, 1776. John Adams famously believed that Independence day should be celebrated on the 2nd for this reason, and would protest invitations to celebrate on the 4th (History.com Editors, 2009). I think this is an important example of how history can be interpreted in more than one way. It shows that the day we choose to celebrate is important, but so is recognizing the events leading up to a decision.
After living outside the US for some time, I have gained insight into how other people view America. Many still hold the romantic view of America as the land of opportunity, a place to pursue “The American Dream.” They see America as the land of the free and the home of the brave. To a great extent, people see what they want to see; how progressive and great America is, but what they don’t see is what goes on beneath the surface, until recently.
The Black Lives Matter movement has received international support and brought to light rampant racism and police brutality in America. Black activists and influencers such as Rachel Cargle and Sophia Roe, politicians such as Lauren Underwood (IL-14) and Alma Adams (NC-12), and allies are sharing the microphone so as not to waste a second of this crucial moment in history. And it is crucial: People need to recognize the reality of how systemic racism has plagued our nation since its Independence, making America the land of the free for the White man, but no one else.
The Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” If this were true, we wouldn’t be where we are today. The ideas America was built on are great. America is a great idea, but the truth is that we have a long way to go before it is great.
So, as we go into the Fourth of July weekend this year, and while you wave your flags and watch fireworks (if there will be any) consider taking a moment to really think about what America is celebrating on the 4th of July. What is liberty? How are we White Americans able to celebrate such freedom like being able to live without fear that we will be unjustly harmed or killed because of our skin color? How are we White Americans able to go out and buy a bag of Skittles or safely go for a jog in our neighborhood? How are we able to celebrate such freedoms while Black Americans are not?
How can we celebrate America becoming a free and independent nation while so many Americans aren’t and haven’t been free for centuries? Think about what America stands for and how our history has shaped the nation we know today. Just because something used to be done a particular way, doesn’t mean it’s the right way. I still consider myself a patriotic American but one who hopes for a better future; a future that includes everyone when we say Americans have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And although I won’t be celebrating the Fourth this year, if you are, please wear a mask.
History.com Editors, H. (2009, December 16). Fourth of July – Independence Day. Retrieved June 24, 2020, from https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/july-4th