We the people began with a revolutionary document. In that document we said, “We hold these truths…” We said that everyone being created equal was self-evident. We also said that these equally created people were “endowed” with rights that are “inalienable.” Included among these rights are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Come this Tuesday July 4, 2017, the United States of America will celebrate its 241st birthday. There will be fireworks displays in almost every big city and small town in America. The red, the white, and the blue will fly above kites and shimmer in the wind the way sunlight shimmers on the seas. The nation has come a long ways since those original 13 states decided to form a Union. That Union was severely tested during the Civil War that occurred only 85 years after the nation declared its independence.
A cursory reading of the U.S. Constitution will reveal the source of the disturbance that torn the nation asunder. It was based on unfinished business that the writers of the Constitution left to future generations to settle. Read a little further into that Constitution and one will find the Amendments that sought to correct a severe error that was made during the summer of 1787. Before the Civil War and before the Civil War Amendments corrected the errors of the summer of 1787, Frederick Douglass asked the question “What is the Fourth of July?” What is the Fourth of July to your fellow human beings who are hobbled in chains? Douglass, speaking in 1852, was addressing the plight of enslaved Africans a few years before the Civil War. As an abolitionist, his message was one of realism, yet holding on to optimism. Douglass’s optimism was based on a belief that the Constitution did not sanction the institution of African enslavement. And because this document did not support the institution of enslavement, the aberration of enslavement could be maintained. In 1857, the Supreme Court did not agree with Douglass. With the Dred Scott Decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the African was “imported” into the United States for the sole purpose of servitude. The ruling also reinforced the idea of White supremacy and Black inferiority. As far as the laws of the nation are concerned, the Dred Scott Decision made the infamous declaration that “Blacks had no rights that any White person is bound to respect.”
Exactly where are we as a nation as we approach America’s 242st birthday. Of course African enslavement is no longer with us; however, the high incarceration rate of people of color is alarming. Many of those convicted of felonies also lose their right to vote. The move to more privatization of prisons seems to take dead aim at one aspect of the 13th Amendment. The Thirteenth Amendment’s except clause states that involuntary servitude shall not exist except for the punishment of a crime. Privatization seems only one step removed from ante-bellum plantations. There is also an element in the country that is determined to have major voter suppression. There is also an element in the country that sees no evil, speaks no evil, and hears no evil as it pertains to police violence in communities of color. On the other hand, there has been measurable Black progress. Black people are not as violent as they are portrayed. We are not as poor as we are portrayed. Some of us are even wealthier than we are portrayed. Until skin color is redefined, societal maladies against people of color will continue to shock, but also be seen as inevitable and somewhat acceptable.
Where will America be in another 241 years? No one living today, will be alive in 241 years. The question for us is how much of America’s genetic material will survive for two centuries. Will voter suppression survive? Will police still continually be acquitted for cold-blooded murder of unarmed Black people? Will Muslims and Mexicans continue to be a scapegoat? Will Puerto Rico be the 51st state? Will there be a wall? How many woman presidents will there have been? How many non-white presidents will there have been?
This is my country. I am an America citizen. I live in the United States. What I cannot figure out is why I feel, as Dr. King stated, that I am living in a perpetual tiptoe stance? Why do I feel as if I could be provoked to defend myself, yet be labeled the criminal just as a matter of course? As a child and adolescent, these questions never entered my consciousness. I only saw the Fourth as a reason to get a new summer outfit and play with some firecrackers. As a child one has this overwhelming assumption of place. You just assume that you belong here. You just assume this is home. Therefore, what is the Fourth of July? Is the Fourth of July on relevant to me because there was a subsequent Juneteenth? Life is strange. The good and the bad come out of the same government and nation just like hot and cold water comes out of the same faucet. I shall reiterate. This is my country. I hope everyone has a nice Fourth of July.
Anthony Neal earned his Ph.D. in political science from Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University). Dr. Neal is an associate professor at State University College, Buffalo. The author of numerous book reviews and journal articles, he has had his work published in the Western Journal of Black Studies, the Journal of Black Studies, and Black Issues in Higher Education. In 2014 Dr. Neal received the university’s Faculty Appreciation Award, was named Instructor of the Year by the university’s United Student Government, and Professor of the Year by the Student Political Society in the Department of Political Science. In 2015, he published The American Political Narrative which is a succinct yet poignant narrative about the development of the American political system and what is needed to maintain it. In 2016, he will publish a book of poetry entitled “Love Agnostic | from 9/11 to Charleston”