A Dialogue in Dichotomy

When fireworks lit up the summer sky on the 4th of July, it signified, for many, a celebration of the birth of a nation founded in 1776 on the tenets of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all of its citizens. This year, with the official recognition of the 19th of June as a federal holiday (also known as Juneteenth), we can all celebrate the official and unofficial end of the legalization of slavery in the United States. This year, the occasions are even more poignant as we reflect on the recent official recognition of Juneteenth, a celebration of the end of slavery in the United States, as a federal holiday, and prepare to fight against the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the use of Affirmative Action as a tool to balance fair consideration of worthy college applicants of color who have succeeded against all odds against unworthy legacy applicants who are predominately White.

The confluence of these commemorations underscores a profound tension at the heart of our collective American identity. What does the 4th of July mean to Black Americans whose enslaved ancestors were shackled while this nation proclaimed its independence? And how can we celebrate freedom when we still encounter such profound inequality?

The 4th of July, at its core, is a celebration of freedom from oppression. Yet, this ideal was not extended to the enslaved people when the Founding Fathers put their quills to the Declaration of Independence in 1776. For many Black Americans, this day is a stark reminder of when their ancestors were considered property rather than people. This uncomfortable paradox contrasts with the sweeping declarations of freedom and self-determination that the holiday symbolizes.

What does the 4th of July mean to Black Americans whose enslaved ancestors were shackled while this nation proclaimed its independence?

But just as the American narrative is a complex tapestry woven from countless individual stories, so is the experience of this day among Black Americans. Some choose to see it as a celebration of progress, a testament to how far the nation has come in its struggle toward racial equality. Others view it as a stark reminder of the enduring legacy of systemic racism and inequality. This range of perspectives underscores Black Americans’ deep, nuanced relationships with their country’s history and promise. It becomes a challenge to celebrate the ideals of the 4th of July as a Black American when with each day, the current court system and members of the government find new ways to strip away or limit our excess to quality education, healthcare, and freedom while attempting to dismantle the progress we have so long fought for.

The addition of Juneteenth to the roster of federal holidays marks a significant stride towards acknowledgment and reconciliation. Celebrated on the 19th of June, Juneteenth commemorates the day in 1865 when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform the enslaved Black people that they were free – a full two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. This holiday embodies a significant moment for Black Americans, signaling the end of one of the most horrific chapters in the country’s history.

Yet, the advent of Juneteenth as a recognized celebration of freedom does not negate the complexity surrounding the 4th of July for many Black Americans. These two holidays represent two sides of the same coin. The 4th of July, with its foundational significance, symbolizes the promise of freedom, initially unfulfilled for many but not all. On the other hand, Juneteenth marks a pivotal point in the journey to actualize that promise. For this reason, we must hold onto the ideals of what Juneteenth means to us, despite what has transpired in the courts. We must remember how far we have come from not being allowed into the institutions that sought to limit our reach toward achievement and continue to fight for true progress that rogue justices of an unbalanced court cannot upend.

On the opposite of the spectrum, however, the Supreme Court overturned the use of Affirmative Action as a legitimate tool for ensuring fair consideration for college applicants of color seeking acceptance in colleges and universities in many states throughout the country while ignoring the ongoing racial barriers for applicants of color and the open door acceptance policy for legacy applicants who are primarily White.

The road to true equality is long and often fraught. However, as we continue on and away from the glow of the 4th of July and Juneteenth, we will stand on the shoulders of our forefathers and foremothers who fought and died for our freedom in our continuing struggle for equality and justice and fight for those who will come after us and continue our fight for justice and equality.