I held my nephew’s little hand in mine as his little mouth dropped open in wonder of all the colors splashed across the sky. This was his first 4th of July. He was 3 years old. Too young to know what the fuss and the fanfare were for, he still knew that this was an important day. We had woken up early, went to the park, cleaned up the house, dressed him up in a new set of clothes and we tried (and failed) to tame his unruly afro for the firework show tonight. Still, as a child, and not yet American but so desperately wanting to be so, my parents took great joy in taking us to the 4th of July fireworks. It was a promise of what was to come. As soon as the paperwork came through, we would also take off into the sky, like the fireworks and reach our full potential with a glorious, colorful bang in the sky.
At least, that’s what we thought. The paperwork came through. We became American, and just like that, a cornucopia of avenues to the gilded middle class unfolded.
One problem though, the melanin in our skin; cocoa on my father’s, banana on my mother’s, chocolate on my sister and cashew on mine. At home, skin described what you looked like, in America, it determined how high you flew, and it seemed our flight would go the way of Icarus, regardless of how close, or far, we flew to the sun.
At my mentor’s suggestion, I listened to the speech written by Frederick Douglass. I sat, spellbound, almost if in a rapture, absolutely stunned by the prophetic nature of Douglas’s word. 160 years later Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Philando Castille and Breonna Taylor receive no justice and when Colin Kaepernick peacefully exercises his first amendment right, he is muzzled by the powers that be.
Frederick Douglass writes:
What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the 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 denunciations 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 which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.
Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.
Despite being written 160 years ago, much of the rhetoric still rings true. America may be one country, but its children are living between the fractures of 2 realities. Indeed, that which is inhuman, cannot be divine and our doctors of divinity are gravely mistaken. Yes, much work has been done in the realm of race relations and we are certainly much better off than 100 years ago but if there is anything that the pandemic taught us is that there is still a long way to go.
I held the hand of my nephew, cashew, like me, and chubby, like me. His eyes glowed in awe of all the colors splashed out against the sky.
And for that moment, so was I.
I hope he sees an America closer to its ideals than the America that I have seen.