Observing Independence in the United States 2023

By Dr. John E. Warren, Publisher
San Diego Voice & Viewpoint Newspaper

Once again, because of where America stands today on the ever present issue of race, the following reflections are offered from the first two paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence, signed July 4, 1776. First, the preamble, which has much bearing on where we stand today as a nation:

“When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the Earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, they should declare the causes which compels them to separate…”

The Extreme Conservative Right elements of the American people, operating under the banner of the Republican Party, have provided living proof that the political “Bands” they are connected to do not include us, as people of color.

In addition to the attacks on which books our children can read, the efforts to outlaw any teaching dealing with the ugly truths of racism such as the attack on Critical Race Theory which most don’t even understand; the U.S. Supreme Court’s Decision on Abortion Rights; the failure to act on gun violence and the continued murder of citizens, mostly African Americans, by law enforcement officials all provide clear proof that there is not and never was a belief “that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Before we get too excited about the cookouts and holiday celebrations with fireworks across this great land, let us reflect on the words of Federick Douglass which appear elsewhere in this issue, including his famous Fourth of July Speech of 1852, in Rochester, New York. Let’s look at Independence as being incomplete because of the disparity that Douglass found between Blacks and Whites. Today, although more sophisticated, disparities still exist at every level, in spite of the efforts of so many Whites who have joined with Blacks in the struggle for equality for all.

Douglas asked in his speech: “Are the great principles of political freedom and natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us?” It would appear that in 161 years, many of his questions remain unanswered. The inequality of slavery still exists today in the minds and behavior of many Americans who cannot accept that America is a melting pot of all nations.

“Out of many, one.” That melting pot includes people of color.

The key requirement is that we as people of color must never accept less than equality in all things. While we may not technically be slaves, as reminded by the recent declaration of Juneteenth as a federal holiday, many of us are still mentally slaves to mediocrity and the acceptance of less than what we should have. If some of us remain slaves to inequality and injustice, then the following question Douglass raised is appropriate today:

“What to the American slave, is our Fourth of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than any other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is constant victim; To him your celebration is a sham, our shout of liberty and equality hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and Thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.”

In conclusion: what should we do? We should review the America to whom Frederick Douglass spoke. We should weigh against his words how far we’ve come. We should celebrate Juneteenth; the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments; the Emancipation Proclamation, which had not been thought of when Douglass wrote this speech; Civil Rights, Voting Rights, and Equal Employment Opportunity as well as an integrated Armed Forces.

Let us remember our schools are just as segregated now, based on economics rather than race, than when the Supreme Court handed down the Brown v. Board of Education Decision.

Yes, we can take time out to celebrate, but let that celebration be measured in terms of where we are and where we have yet to go.

What is the 4th of July? That which I must still fight for to make it really apply to me and those who look like me.

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