American Patriotism as it Pertains to POC
“What, to the slave, is the Fourth of July?” —Frederick Douglass
If you attended American schools, the story of American independence is as commonplace as the flag. American colonists were fed up with British rule because they were not willing to pay the crown via taxes. So the Boston Tea Party happened and Paul Revere warned us and on July 4, 1776, America became an independent nation. We celebrate it with fireworks and cookouts, flag adorned outfits and beer because God always blesses America & we are FREE.
Except the white historians who tell the story of the American revolution in our textbooks left out a few important points, particularly as it relates to the non-white characters of the story.
One of the earliest sparks for the American Revolution came in 1763. During the French and Indian war, many Native Americans aligned themselves with the French army and were angered when they were defeated. Pontiac’s rebellion occurred just a few months after its conclusion, where Natives attacked a dozen British forts. The British army’s response was smallpox blankets and massacring Natives that had nothing to do with the rebellion. In an effort to cull the uprising that was clearly occurring in newly expanded America, King George III issued the Proclamation of 1763 which would give all land west of the Appalachian mountains to Native Americans. The Proclamation was disregarded and soon voided in America, but it was the spark that gave colonists a reason to fight for independence.
A few years later in 1775, George Washington announced that slaves and negroes had no place in the American army. Two days later, slaves fighting for the crown defeated the union army in the battle of Kemp’s Landing, capturing the eyes of British Loyalist and Virginia governor Lord Dunmore. Lord Dunmore then issued a proclamation that all rebel slaves who enlisted in his army (only the ones who had masters fighting for the Union of course) would be granted freedom once the crown was victorious. Patriot and Declaration of Independence signer Edward Rutledge described Dunmore’s proclamation as “more effectual to work an eternal separation between Great Britain and the Colonies — than any other expedient, which could have possibly been thought of.”
The Stamp Act, the Sugar Act, the Boston Tea Party were just the filling of the sandwich. American colonists were less apprehensive of paying taxes to the crown than they were allowing the nation’s indigenous people to live unterrorized in a part of the new America. They would not be convinced to fight for independence until Great Britain decided to free slaves that fought for them. Americans were cool without independence, but not if it meant they couldn’t own people and steal land. And so, on July 2nd (not 4th), 1776, America became an independent nation.
Wearing red, white and blue and Stars and Stripes on the Fourth of July is just something you did if you were a part of an American family when I was growing up. Before I even knew why, it’s what we did. I don’t even know anybody who discusses America and its founding on the Fourth of July. We don’t need to — we already know we’re celebrating freedom.
But in July 1776, slavery was not only the law of this land, it was the economic basis for what America was and will ever be. American chattel slavery would lay the foundation for oppression and wealth inequality that upholds white supremacy today.
Before and after July 1776, America made and broke treaties with the indigenous tribes of this land, continuing the genocide and theft that killed over 12 million indigenous people and was the first in a long line of America’s obsession with imperialism.
So when I consider the true story of America and its birthday, that red, white and blue no longer represents freedom, it represents violence. The flag no longer stands as a symbol for the “home of the brave”, it becomes a symbol of imperialism and theft.
As people, we talk a lot about tradition. That transcends race across the globe. We have cultural and familial traditions that we hold true. Celebrating the Fourth of July is just an American tradition. People who know the history of this blood-thirsty but independent nation sometimes continue to celebrate because it’s just what they’ve always done.
Acknowledging that this country has nothing to celebrate because it still has so many of its own citizens in bondage of one form or another is a first and very important step. For many people, they believe in a country that might have had some rough beginnings but progress is continually being made, and so the flag and the holiday are a representation of that. My response to that is that any progress made on the part of non-white people has always happened in spite of the American government, not because of it. None of the three branches of American government lead the path for progress. In fact, in most cases, they’ve impeded it. It has been brave people in America, mostly brave People of Color, who have led American progress. If there is anyone to celebrate, it surely isn’t the Founding Fathers. It’s the people who rise up and have always risen up to fight against the ideals that the Founding Fathers believed the most.