“Fellow-citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! Whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, today, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I [we] forget…’may my right hand forget her cunning, and my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!… to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and theworld.’”—Frederick Douglas, July 4, 1852
As the United States of America celebrates another Independence Day (July 4), recognizing a principled stand by early American colonists against the tyranny of England’s King George, we should learn from the words of Frederick Douglas, who in 1852 eloquently cited the hypocrisy of our nation to celebrate the liberty of independence amidst the institution of slavery.
While African-Americans are free from the brutality of physical bondage, our minds, in the words of Douglas, seem to “…chime in with the popular theme…” of hot dogs, hamburgers, John Phillip Sousa, and fireworks.
In short, we need to place consciousness over cookouts.
Douglas’ contemporary, Harriet Tubman, reminds today’s African-Americans that worse than the institution of slavery may have been the reality of many Black people who did not recognize their state of enslavement.
July 4, 2011 may well mark the most perilous position for Black people in America since slavery. For example:
•The first generation less educated than the previous since 1865
•76 percent of seniors testing positive for HIV
•70 percent of un-wed births
•60 percent of U.S. home foreclosures
•50 percent high-school dropout rates
•50 percent of U.S. jail population
Yet, despite a fearsome fire burning our heritage house of honor we joyfully eat, drink, and be merry cooking outside in the yard. We must put the family fire out.
What must we do short of cancelling cookouts? First, we must know our history–tragic and triumphant. Second, we raise our conscious level from the basement of “Dancing with the Stars” and “American Idol” to the rooftop relevant pursuits that lift one another. Lastly, we must turn to each other and not on each other. WE is a lot stronger the ME.
If Black people to not recognize that all of us–the wealthy and the without–are still seen as the wretched by most of America we should have another cookout. Only this time we may find ourselves served up as seared slaves again.
(Gary L. Flowers is the executive director and CEO of the Black Leadership Forum, Inc.)