What are we celebrating?
For some, July 4th means a long weekend to relax with family and friends. Across the country, groups host barbeques and enjoy fireworks displays. Those celebrating don red, white, and blue apparel and bask in the warm July weather. All of this is done in recognition of America achieving independence from Great Britain through the Declaration of Independence. But for many, the Fourth of July conjures up complex emotions. What are we celebrating exactly?
As an Asian woman, I am acutely aware of the fact that the Declaration of Independence was not written with me in mind. The infamous text proclaims, “[w]e hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It’s a powerful pronouncement, but our country’s interpretation and practice leaves much to be desired. Or, perhaps, it’s been implemented exactly as intended.
Despite its plain language that “all men are created equal,” it was not made to apply to everyone, not even all men. At the time of its creation, many in America, including the Founding Fathers, owned slaves and were fighting to preserve the institution of slavery. The slave revolts colonists were desperately trying to suppress are even mentioned in the Declaration of Independence as “excited domestic insurrections amongst us.” Our country’s forefathers were also fighting to eradicate Indigenous Peoples from the land they stole and settled on. This is evidenced in the 27 grievances the Declaration asserts against King George III. At that time, the King was attempting to limit the Indigenous land that the colonists could settle on through what colonists termed the “Intolerable Acts.” The restriction on their unfettered expansion into western land was one of the many reasons colonists sought independence from the Crown.
Beyond that written into the Declaration of Independence, it’s worth noting that much of the racist sentiment at the time was further codified in the United States Constitution years later in 1788. For purposes of determining taxation and representation in Congress, Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Constitution (also known as the three-fifths clause) stated that only 3/5 of the non-free population (Black slaves) would be counted alongside the whole population of “free Persons,” the white population in each state.
It took close to a century for our legal framework to recognize that anyone other than white land-owning men over the age of 21 were deserving of “certain unalienable Rights” in our country. Slavery was abolished through the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865. It wasn’t until the 20th century that women were given the right to vote through the Nineteenth Amendment. More recently, it was within many of our own or our parents lifetimes that adults aged 18-21 were given the right to vote in 1971 through the Twenty-Sixth Amendment.
Though this isn’t intended to be a history lesson, it’s imperative that we commemorate July 4th with a deeper understanding that the Declaration of Independence was written for the select few by the select few. While America gained its freedom from Great Britain in 1776, the freedoms of marginalized groups are still being fought for today, 246 years later.
With a 339% rise in anti-Asian hate crime in the last year, hundreds of anti-LGBTQ+ bills being introduced in state legislatures across the country, and innocent Black people being murdered at the hands of white men while grocery shopping or during a routine traffic stop, it’s extremely difficult for me to acknowledge progress made over the last two centuries. Add to that, the tragedies occurring at our border and Roe v. Wade having recently been overturned, I can’t find much to “celebrate” this Fourth of July.
I am physically, mentally, and emotionally drained. I know, however, I’m not alone. According to a recent Gallup poll conducted from June 1-20, 2022, only 38% of U.S. adults reported they are “extremely proud” to be American. Gallup notes this as the lowest national pride rating since it began in 2001.
In light of this information, it’s imperative that through my DEIB work employers (and society at large) recognize many people are struggling right now. For employers or individuals who hold power and privilege, give folks the support they may need during these challenging times. Offer them time, space, and/or resources to process what’s happened and what’s currently playing out in headlines and our lives today. Provide acknowledgement and understanding that employees may not be able to bring their full selves to work every day. And implement policies in the workplace to permanently codify and expand these resources and support for those whose rights have been taken away.
Lastly, be mindful and respectful of the fact that we all process this “holiday” in different ways and many may not be celebrating this year (or ever).
*Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash