Independence Day is supposed to rekindle memories and encourage meditation on the greatness of America as a paragon of democracy and its freedom as a nation. We remember how our nation, though not perfect, is considered exceptional for being a mosaic of cultures where if you play by the rules, you can achieve upward mobility and live a happy and productive life unharmed no matter your skin tone.
Those virtues of patriotism and love for country, the cornerstone rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” as well as the ethos at the founding of the nation that all are created equal, have remained a paradox in our evolving democratic experiment.
It is becoming increasingly clear that freedom as a nation does not necessarily mean freedom for certain marginalized groups — Black people — who have particularly experienced the full force of police brutality.
That is why this year’s independence celebration, punctuated by the Black Lives Matter movement demonstrations, has shone a searchlight on police departments across the nation after George Floyd’s death under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer.
Instead of the usual July Fourth barbecue and festivities, we should pause and have some honest conversations this weekend about the sanctity of life and racial justice. We should reflect on what happened to Floyd and countless other Blacks.
Is it freedom and justice for all, or just for some?
“As a Black man in America, I have never known what justice is for Black people,” said the Rev. Edward Pinkney, a civil rights activist in Benton Harbor. He made these comments in a recent conversation I had with him about the pervasive racial bias in policing that leads to the deaths of many Black people.
In our conversation, he expressed deep pain, which is part of the burden borne by many African Americans who look at July Fourth through a very different lens than the dominant culture.
“I have lived over 70 years and never witnessed, in the history of my lifetime and never will, what justice truly means for us,” Pinkney said. “There is no such thing as justice for Black people. Even when they are shot and it is recorded, there is hardly a chance that the officer will get convicted. A Black person’s life is not worth anything.”
In fact, 168 years ago the abolitionist Fredrick Douglass, in a timeless Fourth of July speech, sought to expose the contradictions of the celebration against the extreme difficulties that Black people were facing.
“The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me,” Douglass said. “This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony.”
Just as Douglass pondered some of the most important and penetrating questions that have long haunted us, we must use the anniversary of our nation’s beginning to spotlight the demand for Black equality and an end to police brutality.
“Systemic racism can have an ending. Police brutality can have an ending. Economic repression of Black and brown people can have an ending,” Motown musical icon Stevie Wonder said recently in a YouTube video in light of the national protest against police misconduct.
Wonder added, “A movement without action is a movement standing still. To those who say they care: Move more than your mouth. Move your feet to the polls, and use your hands to vote.”
Wonder also posed two important questions in his video message: “When will the day come that we let hate go? Or do I have to concede that for human beings it’s just impossible”?
It seems we have been wrestling with those questions since the founding of this nation, and it remains clear that many diverse voices are still wrestling with them today. As Wonder says in the video, “What I’ve not heard is a unanimous commitment to atone for the sins of this country.”
Underscoring the fact that Black lives matter, he added, “Yes, all lives do matter, but they only matter when Black lives matter too.”
Catch “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which broadcasts at 11 a.m. weekdays on 910AM.
Source: Detroit News