My thanks to The Nation for the opportunity to read Frederick Douglass’ “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July” – a speech he gave before members of Congress in 1852. This is only the second time I’ve read it, and this time it stood out all the more.
It is not an easy read. There are too many uncomfortable parallels between that time and this – at least for those with eyes to see.
Most strikingly, Douglass’ words then could very easily be updated to fit so many ills of our nation and political system today. The strength and honor of our forefathers contrasted by the greed and cravenness of our present. The slave trade may have ended, but are the poor, the weak, the broken people of any color that much better served by what we now call “government.”
Then “religious liberty” was used to justify laws that forced judges and states to return runaway slaves to their owners, and provided harsh punishments for those who aided or harbored them. Today the same argument is used to divide families, to deny minorities equal justice under the law, even as excuse to deny service in the public marketplace, or to justify throwing your child in the streets because they – by Nature’s design – are something other than what your bigotry and craven interpretation of your myths define as “godly.”
Now, as then, violence based on race, creed, sexuality, and politics are considered “normal” in the nation’s discourse by the vocal elements of our society. Few speak out against it, fewer still fight it, and those that do are made mockery of by the crude, the illiterate, and the privileged with the media whoring for them and hanging on their every word. This is your America. It is not mine. Celebrate the slatternly creature you have created, if you will. I will not. Instead, I will mourn the dream of what she was meant to be.