Thursday, July 8, 2021

What Is Your Fourth of July?

My Kid declared the night of July 4th to be the best day ever, and this was after a week spent at her happy place (the beach and the house we have rented for eight years). She said this after she experienced the fireworks and hoodworks in our neighborhood, because they are inescapable. We ventured into an alley not too far from the house where we met the young nephew of a neighbor and they became fast friends, as little kids are adept at doing. They ran relays, tossed two packs of snap pops, and marveled at the flying sparks and colors from competing fireworks on the ground and in the air. A little later, we walked down the street to where some guys were shooting off rockets, which excited her even more. Right before we put her to bed she made her declaration, because six year olds are easy to impress...

Of course, now that we are a few days past Independence Day, I am hopeful that the nightly bombardment of firecrackers and cherry bombs will end soon. They've been at this since Juneteenth, but it also seems that each summer, the fireworks start popping off earlier and earlier. Black people love fireworks. I don't know where they are sold in other places, but here in DC, little makeshift plywood storefronts suddenly appear mid-June at various locations throughout the city. For years, the structure that was erected on the northwest side of the Sousa Bridge (near one of the entrances to Anacostia Park) is where my Dad bought our fireworks. Yes, my been-woke Dad, who reminded me on Sunday of his sentiments about Independence Day, including his annual re-reading of Frederick Douglass' famous speech. Even he likes the fireworks.

Therefore, I am here to tell you that it really didn't matter that President Biden made Juneteenth a federal holiday two weeks ago. It was nice, but Independence Day is the crowd favorite with the clear advantage of 245 years of tradition. More than likely, Juneteenth will become the weekend when folks will shop for their American flag apparel and decor on sale in preparation for July 4th. The fireworks will probably become available right after Memorial Day, so all of you gentrifiers better invest in a thunder vest for your dog and learn to wobble. To all of the Incredulous Red Kool-Aid drinkers with no Black friends, Hobby Lobby will have plenty of white sheets and tiki torches...

All of the unnecessary lament that Independence Day would somehow be overshadowed or eclipsed by adding another federal holiday to the mix has proven to be unfounded. After all of these months of lockdown, folks have been eagerly awaiting and preparing for this holiday. Lots of Aunties making potato salad and cousins making playlists. Folks were READY. The day before when we were spending our last few hours in Ocean City at a water park, all of the lifeguards wore their loudest Uncle Sam jester hats, knee-high flag socks, and other ridiculous American flag apparel. The patrons wore flag trunks, bathing suits, tees, and one woman had a sequined flag cowboy hat. Back in DC with the COVID gathering restrictions lifted, all of the parking spaces in my neighborhood were taken by holiday revelers similarly decked out in American flag apparel (some of it clearly purchased for this first social cookout in 16 months). At some point, I wondered if I still had any of those Old Navy $5 tees.

Earlier in the day, I saw that Vanessa Williams had been trending for her forthcoming performance at the pre-recorded Capitol Fourth celebration. The complaints from right-wingnut Twitter were about her singing both America The Beautiful and Lift Ev'ry Voice, also known as the Black National Anthem (soprano Rene Fleming sang The Star Spangled Banner). And predictably, I had something to say in response to their nonsense...

By the end of the evening when I was scrolling through social media again, the complaints from get-off-my-lawn/Gen X Twitter focused on the nonstop fireworks. Between upset pets, fears of not being able to discern the difference between gunshots and firecrackers, and just general frustration about the nonstop noise, I was reminded of an observation I have made countless times in the past.

Black people are thee most patriotic Americans you will encounter. Speaking for the Latinx branch of my family, they get all red, white, and blue for the 4th too, and I imagine that is the same for most people of color. For all of his talk, my Dad enjoys the Capitol Fourth festivities every year (and I know for a fact that he TiVo'd it this year).

So for anybody who wants to get froggy and tell me to go to another country if I have complaints about America, lemme tell you like successive generations of my ancestors have defiantly said: I AIN'T GOING NOWHERE!

First of all, I know that the wolf-cries against Critical Race Theory have many of you thinking that if you keep denouncing it, you don't need to acknowledge the truth, but let's start with some basic facts. My ancestors were brought here to work the land. You can quibble about the dates and terminology, and you can argue that the kidnappings on the Continent were carried out by other Africans, but none of that moral back-tracking is persuasive. You can offer your bullshit justifications cloaked in benevolent Christian Nationalism if you want, but it won't change the fact that many Black people can trace their origins in the New World to when there were Thirteen British colonies, Spanish colonial holdings in Mexico and the Caribbean, the French still owned Louisiana, and Lower Manhattan was still New Amsterdam. 

Furthermore, since I am old enough to recall when there were scarcely any mentions of the contributions made by Black people in America other than as enslaved labor, I know that at the very least, you were taught certain basics about the American Revolutionary War. You may claim to have never heard the name Crispus Attucks, but you do know that prior to the official declaration of war in 1776, the Boston Massacre (1770) was one of many skirmishes between colonists and the occupying British soldiers. The specifics of Virginia's colonial proclamation issued by Lord Dunmore to the enslaved in 1775 may not be common knowledge, but you do know that there were Loyalists to the Crown and most of them migrated to Canada after the War. Look closely at this iconic painting and you will see that there is a Black man seated in front of General Washington as he crossed the Delaware.

I won't waste your time with "woke" history lessons because I know facts don't always sway opinions, but some of you need to get clear that this is our country too. We fought for it, built the wealth that your forefathers passed down to you, and we've saved it from the brink of disaster many times. You don't have to like that, but there ain't nothing you can do about it. You've tried and FAILED to deport, resettle, segregate, lynch, redline, starve, mis-educate, and disenfranchise us out of the narrative, but we are still here. And we will continue to fight for the equality that you claim we have, but have yet to fully experience. 

So yes, our first Black Miss America sang the Black National Anthem in primetime and if you decided to change the channel, that's fine. We love Lift Ev'ry Voice and stand to sing all three stanzas because it is a patriotic song written by two Black men in honor of Abraham Lincoln. The fact that you take issue with it being designated as a Black anthem speaks to your issues, not ours and certainly is telling since the song was written by an accomplished Black composer and his equally accomplished brother. But do go on about the divisiveness of a song that encourages everyone to lift their voices to sing...

Yes, we're going to shoot off fireworks in the hood. We bought them legally. If you moved to this neighborhood and think it is your right to police the behavior of the folks who have been here for decades then do what you have to do, Permit Patty. Call the cops and stand outside in your front yard instead of hiding in your kitchen with your wine spritzer, carrot-raisin salad, and bag of pita chips. Come outside with your bad self and face the neighbors to whom you barely speak as you jog by every day. Because then they'll know whose house not to look out for...

Yes, we are still going to celebrate Juneteenth, the Lord willing and the creek don't rise come next year. And while we debate the politics of the easy layup versus the hard work of restoring the Voting Rights Act, we're going to talk shit and organize for Senator Rev. Raphael Warnock while Unc burns the hotdogs on the grill. We're going to buy Black and shop local and wear our BLM tees with African wax print skirts that have pockets. We won't go all out for PRIDE, but we will welcome those cousins without judgment or too many intrusive questions. We will politely sample all of the potato salad, keep the kids from going in and out of the house, and will introduce the old heads to Uncle Nearest. You will probably hear both versions of Before I Let Go and there will be a loud argument about which version slaps harder (Maze, of course). And we'll right back at it in two weeks for the 4th of July.

Because we too, are America. That's why we march against police misconduct AND stand with the Capitol Police officers like my cousin who were there on January 6. We can mourn the deaths of Officer Brian Sicknick and George Floyd because we know that grief and loss are not political positions. We understand the rights and privileges of citizenship, which is why there are long lines to vote in our communities. Just watch next month, our tears will flow when the American women win that hardware in Tokyo whilst we debate whether Sha'Carri should be watching from home. 

We love this country, even when that love is un-reciprocated.

If that sounds too dysfunctional, too one-sided, the truth is, you do love us. You just don't want to admit it, but you love our food, our music, our art, our strength, our courage, our tenacity, and our fortitude. That we survived the Middle Passage, enslavement, Jim Crow, the crack epidemic, and trumpism, you are impressed and a little envious. Those aren't easy hurdles to overcome, but that's what Americans do. We fight to win.

So before you get too keyboard bold, let me tell you that if you don't like it, then you leave. 

You go back to wherever your family originated so you don't have to listen to my unruly, arrogant, brash, and entitled rants about how this country can and must do better. You find someplace else on the globe where there is no religious freedom. You go where it is typical for mercenaries and mobs to assassinate duly elected officials. You shut up and pledge allegiance to some dictator if you want a conman grifter in power. You migrate to another country where it is acceptable to jail and torture political opponents for their beliefs. You leave, because you're the one who hates America.

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