This July 4th Felt Different

Black Lives Matter activists demonstrate in New York City to protest police brutality on July 9, 2016. Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

July 4th, 2020, was one unlike any I can recall. Traditionally, Independence Day is a celebration of freedom. It’s a time where we, as Americans, celebrate our God-given rights as stated in the US Constitution. This July 4th, though, felt different. Where I usually find myself enjoying my “freedoms,” drinking and eating, this July 4th was more reflective. Yes, I meant to put freedoms in quotations. Let me explain why this July 4th was different and why I now view freedoms differently.

First, I feel that it is important to state that I do not take freedom lightly. Because I don’t, I thought it was more respectful not to publish this article on July 4th. However, I still feel that are things that need to be said. So, now that we are all done celebrating, let us discuss freedom and her that pertains to people of color in the United States of America.

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March on Washington participants. Aug. 28, 1963. (Courtesy Library of Congress)

Merriam-Webster defines freedom as “the quality or state of being free: such as the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action.” With all the racial tension in this country this July 4th, let me explain why people of color (specifically Black-Americans) do not feel that we have the same feeling of freedom as defined above.

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While it is correct that Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in 1863, it would take an additional two years for all slaves to be freed in 1865. Were blacks in America then free? Yes and no. From 1877 to the 1950s, Jim Crow laws reigned supreme in the South. The purpose of Jim Crow laws was to ensure the racial superiority of whites over blacks. The primary method used to achieve such was through segregation. Blacks did not access to the same quality of education, healthcare, housing, and employment as whites. Still, it did not stop there.

Though Black American males received the right to vote via the 15th Amendment in 1870, they truly did not have the true freedom to vote until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Domestic terrorist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan used violence and intimidation to deter black males from voting. Furthermore, local officials used practices like poll taxes and literacy tests to keep blacks from voting. So, the question is, how would that prevent Black-Americans from voting?

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President Lyndon Johnson greets the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

It wasn’t until 1954 that blacks could even have the opportunity to receive the same education as whites, which is when Brown v. Board Education deemed segregated schools as unequal. Then, it wasn’t until 1964 when Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination in the workplace based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Yet, it does not end there either.

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It was not until 1998 that Section 188 of the Workforce Investment Act would prohibit discrimination in regards to participation in benefits or denial of benefits based on race and several other protected categories. So, if you’re keeping track, Black-Americans were “freed” in 1863, but were still fighting to exercise that freedom properly one hundred and twenty-five years later. What effect did those restrictions have on blacks then and now?

The concept of generational wealth, inherently, means that you leave behind a boost (of sorts) for those that follow you. In my eyes, generational wealth is more than just money. It includes education, and social ties passed down from one generation to the next. Of course, that is not to say that Black-Americans do not pass valuable lessons down to those that come after them. If they did not, they would not be able to survive for as long as they have.

Instead, it means that blacks (and other people of color) do not have access to the same privileges that someone like Donald Trump, Jr. had access to growing up. When you’re fighting every day just to pay the bills and put food on the table, you’re not thinking about what I can leave my family after I die. You’re thinking about what I can do to help get my family through today.

Of course, I am not naïve enough to think that whites cannot suffer the same hardships as blacks. I’ve seen whites personally struggle the same as I do. However, I am also not naïve to think that the systematic oppression of people of color no longer exists. In 2020, you won’t find it in Jim Crow laws. Instead, you’ll find it in practices like the Old Boys Club, racial profiling, practices by the Justice Department, and accusations of people of color be ungrateful for their freedom.

This July 4th
Center for Jewish History, NYC

This July 4th, I’m here to tell you that Black-Americans, indeed, are grateful for our freedom. What we are ungrateful for is the fact we are still fighting 157 years to exercise our liberty without restraint. Despite what you might hear from some, blacks do not want to erase history. No, not at all. What Black-Americans want is for the historical inequality of people of color to be appropriately acknowledged. So, this July 4th, I ask you, will you continue to make excuses for our mistreatment throughout the generations? If not, will you work with to understand Black-Americans and rectify this socially biased system?