With voting rights still on the brink, racial inequality still persistent from the civil rights era, and abusive policing that has gone unabated in our communities, it may be hard to enter the upcoming Fourth of July weekend celebrating a freedom that doesn’t feel actually exists for the majority of Black Americans.
Feeling conflicted about our place in America— despite our labor and investment into it— is not a new phenomenon. From W.E.B. DuBois’s first writings on Black people’s “double consciousness,” to discontent Malcolm X expressed when he embraced Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism, there is a sense that we are both owed the shared wealth we have been central in creating and disillusionment with a country that has yet to fulfill its founding principles.
When some of our freedom fighters and philosophers have spoken frankly on the matter, here’s what they have said:
“Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”
2. Malcolm X
“We are Africans, and we happen to be in America. We are not Americans. We are a people who formerly were Africans who were kidnaped and brought to America. Our forefathers weren’t the Pilgrims. We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock; the rock was landed on us. We were brought here against our will; we were not brought here to be made citizens. We were not brought here to enjoy the constitutional gifts that they speak so beautifully about today.”
“[I]f I am asked abroad if I am a free citizen in the United States of America, I must say only what is true: No. If I am asked if my people enjoy equal opportunity in the most basic aspects of American life, housing, employment, franchise – I must and will say: No. And, shame of shames, under a government that wept for Hungery and sent troops to Korea, when I am asked if that most primitive, savage and intolerable custom of all- lynching- still persists in the United States of America, I will say what every mother’s child of us knows: that they are still murdering Negroes in this country.”
“For whatever else the black man is, he is American. Or whatever he is to become integrated, unintegrated, or disintegrated he will become it in America…I intend to stay here and fight because the blood, sweat, and tears of our forefathers are rooted in the soil of this country. And the reason that Wall Street is the great financial center that it is today is because of the blood sweat and tears of your forefathers who worked in the tobacco and the cotton fields.”
“It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One feels his two-ness, — an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife, — this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost…He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without losing the opportunity of self-development.”
“[T]he revolutionary positions that we took [in the Black Panther Party] were not consistent with the beliefs of the majority of the American people, because the majority of the American people believe in the system as it is. They just believe the system didn’t work right, but it should work right. What we believed is, the system was fundamentally corrupt and could never work right, and had to be replaced.”