Some would use the word “negro.” Others would use terms such as “Black American” or “African-American.” Regardless of choice, today’s community must find its own special meaning this weekend amid the waves of patr
Some would use the word “negro.” Others would use terms such as “Black American” or “African-American.” Regardless of choice, today’s community must find its own special meaning this weekend amid the waves of patriotism and the speeches revering America.
Throughout the diversity of Americans, July 4th holds a wide range of meanings and expectations.
For some, the 4th will be nothing more than a well-deserved day off to cap off a much-needed 3-day weekend. For those here in Chicago, it is a symbol to remind us that the annual Taste of Chicago is coming to a close, complete with fireworks capping off the week-long activities.
For others, it will be an excuse to fire up the grill or crack up the refreshments in order to take in the weather and make the most of a summer day. The 4th becomes a good time for swimming and lounging, for making old acquaintances and remaking old recipes.
Of course, for politicians, pundits, and leaders, the 4th of July is a welcomed opportunity to give talks and speeches about the greatness of this nation. It is a time where men in power red ties and women with American flag lapel pins are able to captivate an audience by directing our attention to the proud history of our American forefathers regardless of race, creed, and socioeconomic lot in life. It is a time when the rhetoric of what America is supposed to be for its citizens – and, dare I say, for the world as an example of liberty and freedom – rings full bloom.
But, just as the great Frederick Douglass said so eloquently many decades ago with his famous speech “The Meaning of the 4th of July for the Negro” (a speech my father made us read as 8-year-old children after a visit to Douglass’ home during a family summer trip over a July 4th weekend) , we must be mindful – particularly in these times today – of the very specific and heightened meaning that the 4th of July should have for our current generations of Black people in America, the racial descendents of Frederick Douglass. For most of America will spend the 4th of July celebrating the victory of the American Revolution, we must collectively prepare and engage immediately in the fight of a revolution to recalibrate and reinvigorate urban America. If much of America will be caught up celebrating the tenets of American life and liberty, we must be captivated by the tough love task of preserving American life, notably the life of our youth that are being wasted. If much of America will celebrate its civic and geopolitical strength through the patriotic spill of blood and sacrifices of the past, we must gather together more strength immediately to stop the flow of blood rolling before our eyes everyday.
Our voices and actions must echo louder than a midsummer night’s fireworks and our results must illuminate our path with a diversity of success within America once again, showing colors that cover the range of backgrounds that make this nation so unique.
Our frustration with the current conditions that are marked with the ebb and flow of tragedy and solace has been well documented. Yet, if the 4th of July is to signify celebratory times for most of America, it must signal to us that the time to elevate ourselves is now.
Who among us is tired of the shadow of death darkening the light of hope within urban America? Yet, who among us is willing to set down a tangible, measurable goal to track as we reverse the lifelessness within many neighborhoods? While much of the nation fills with talk of the American Dream on television sets and VFW halls this weekend, who is willing to dream another impossible dream within our communities? Who is willing to envision an American Dream where, say, 50% of the gang population is transformed within 14 years through a hybrid of education, employment, empowerment, and engagement with the rest of society? Who is willing to write down this task and keep us all accountable? Who is willing to speak up about this need for truth and change within our communities, even as other Americans give the typical talking points this weekend?
And if there are those that are willing to dream this obtainable yet daunting dream, who among us is willing to speak up and speak into existence this new reality? And if there are those that are already speaking this into existence – if their voices are merely a whisper in today’s world as we are drowned out by American hypocrisy of equality in the midst of re-segregation throughout most of our American cities, who among us is willing to speak louder or perhaps shout? And for those that are already shouting, who among us is willing to stand up and ensure that you are both seen and heard for this change? And for those that are already standing up for the cause, who among us is willing to raise up others to stand with you?
As children from the finest schools in our land enjoy the summer holiday, how many of us will take to heart the vibrant symbolism of the 4th of July and ensure that the hollowness of the promise of educational equality for an increasing amount of Black children in 2011 becomes a distant and permanent memory within the course of a generation? Who among us is willing to sacrifice personally to create, pursue, and attain an educational goal that will re-route a large percentage of our youth from jail, dead-end jobs, and lifestyles of disappointment? Who is willing to dare say that we can uplift the collective grades within the Black community by a full letter grade within the course of 12 years? Who is willing to sober up Black America from the haze of tolerating high drop out rates by celebrating a thirst for knowledge within our youth more than our taste for forgetting our recent past with a good meal and a cold drink? Who is willing to see pharmacists where drug dealers presently roam? Who can look into the facts of 7th grade problem children today and see the vision of them being 70-year-old problem solvers down the road?
Further, who from within Generation X is willing to take up the mantle from leaders advanced in years and retired to the heavens, a mantle and mantra of remembering and reviving the belief that we come from a people that have done the impossible because we are a people born from a God of Infinite Possibilities? Who among the young are willing to save the youth? Those that have the most to celebrate this long 4th of July weekend are also the ones with the most to give as we endure the long, seemingly endless night of despair.
America may give in to its collective desire to hit the water, fire up the grill, and toast to another year of our national existence this July 4th, but in light of Douglass’ original foil highlighting the differences for most Americans and Black people in the United States during his time, Black Americans today must be keenly aware of the call to make history at this moment in time, not sit around and reflect upon the joys of previous personal or national memories. The challenge this weekend for Negroes ranging from the Tea Party to progressive parties is pretty clear: we must avoid the hypocrisy of proclaiming freedom, the success of achieving true equality for all Americans, or the hope of political “good will” as a democratic society and instead take head-on the grim reality that a growing segment of young Americans are being reborn into slavery, shipped to the continents of Incarceration, Re-Segregation, and Mis-education, and left to rot in the concrete cotton fields of the modern ghettos of the United States. The meaning of this 4th of July for today’s Negroes – at a time when Black unemployment is depressingly high, Black Americans collective health continues to decline, and intact Black families are becoming more of a myth than a mainstay – is not to be focused on political, social, economic, or religious labels more than we are on the perishing legacy that reeks due to our failure to act and our desire to act like the blind around us. The meaning of this 4th of July is that there is nothing to celebrate during these days. There is no leeway for a day off. There is no genuine naughtiness through accomplishments that deserves fireworks and a carefree attitude. There is too much work to be done and too few lovers of our people to be caught without focus for the duration of this year. And it starts with the acknowledgment that this 4th of July must be less of a holiday and more of a holy day within our communities – a holy day for rededicating ourselves to restoring our communities, just as leaders did before us.
On this 4th of July, when other Americans smile with pride as the flags wave and the rockets’ red glare is above, it is time for us to finally taste the tears of the communities of Chicago and throughout our homeland. When others mourn the sacrifices that others made to make this nation what it is, a bitter taste should strike us with the repugnant thought that we are on the precipice of wasting the sacrifices of countless thousands that looked like us, many of who are nameless and faceless in the annuls of the cruelest parts of our history. When others kick back to take in the easiness of a paid day off from their jobs, we must get the message that it is truly time for us to get to work in a labor of love without a wage but surely with a price if we are not expedient and exceptional in our civic duties.
Much of America may rest on the laurels of the nation this weekend. Some of America may look to rebuild the nation starting this weekend. Black America must be about the business of resurrecting the nation – and notably our part of the nation – starting this weekend.
Lenny McAllister is a syndicated political commentator and the host of “Launching Chicago with Lenny McAllister” on The Talk of Chicago 1690 AM WVON (www.wvon.com). Find him Saturdays with host TJ Holmes and fellow pundit Maria Cardona on “CNN Saturday Morning” at 9:30 AM CDT (10:30 Eastern / 7:30 AM Pacific.) He is the author of the upcoming edition of the book, “The Obama Era, Part I (2008-2010): Diary of a Mad Black PYC (Proud Young Conservative).” Follow him at www.twitter.com/lennyhhr and on Facebook at www.tinyurl.com/lennyfacebook .