03 Jul What to the Black and Brown Child is this 4th of July?
Frederick Douglass was an emancipated slave described as brilliant, eloquent, and determined. He escaped slavery in 1838 and became a powerful leader of the anti-slavery movement. In 1852, he was asked to speak in celebration of the Fourth of July.
His words still ring true and, interpreted under a different light, underscore the current state of both public education and social justice for children of color in the United States today. Every year on July 4th, I examine his message as though it were written for our learners of color today. This year, I take a rather generous portion of interpretive license with his words.
Dear readers, allow me to muse: Why am I called upon to write here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with America’s national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of social justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?
What have our Black and Brown children learned in the last few months leading up to this celebrated independence? Are the benefits of remote learning during a stay-at-home order bringing them the benefits of a high-quality public education? How can we celebrate when our children have seen the images of modern-day lynchings, the lives of George Floyd, Ahmad Arbery, and Rayshard Brooks pumped into their living room TVs and social media feeds? How do we celebrate the benefits of freedom for learners of color in the midst of a summer where our Black and Brown children fear both an unseen pandemic and lynchings at the hands of those sworn to “serve and protect” them?
They are not included within the metaphorical boundaries of rights, freedoms, and justice this anniversary celebrates!
Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common.
The white privilege inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by those with skin of Black or Brown. The sunlight that brings life and healing to you brings bullets, blue knees and death to us. This Fourth of July is yours, not ours. You may rejoice, but we must still mourn.
To drag a man in handcuffs into the grand illuminated temple of liberty and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, are inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock us, by refusing to consider these words today?
Our learners of color have little to celebrate on this anniversary. Textbooks still present a warped, sanitized and whitewashed version of his story, not our story. Social justice and equity are given lip-service, but the scars of implicit bias show prominently in test scores and disciplinary data. The blessings of independence are not enjoyed by Black and Brown children. The free, public education leaves them in blighted schools with mocking commitment to early childhood education, high dropout rates, low literacy rates, and a pipeline to prison.
What, to the Brown and Black child, is this Fourth of July?
I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is a constant victim.
To him, your celebration is a sham;
your boasted liberty, an unholy license;
your national greatness, swelling vanity;
your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless;
your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence;
your shouts 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 up crimes that would disgrace a nation of savages.
There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.
What to the Black and Brown child is the Fourth of July? Were s/he enlightened, it would reveal the gross inadequacy of public education, the provision gaps cultivated by stay-at-home orders for learners without adequate technology, wi-fi access, or highly-qualified and equitably-equipped educators for teaching via distance learning. The AP classes for which s/he is underprepared, the colleges s/he will never attend, the jobs for which s/he will be underqualified. Where is the equity for the learner of color, even more so if s/he is also of poverty? We allow Black and Brown learners an educational system that many of us in education would never tolerate for our own children. When the Secretary of Education and the 45th President work to systematically dismantle the protections our learners have been afforded, in that lies fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy. When our rising graduation rate is offset by a stagnant 26% college readiness rate and 36% reading proficiency rate, a scathing rebuke, not celebration, is called for.
At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed.
Social media has afforded me the ability to attempt to reach the nation’s ear. So today, I pour forth this stream…
… a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and the crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.
Read Frederick Douglass’ full bio here.
Read the full text of the Independence Day Speech at Rochester, 1852, here.