What Does The 4th Of July Mean To Black Men?

“In a very real sense we have two minds, one that thinks and one that feels.”

Daniel Goleman

As human beings, we have both sentience and sapience. Those two traits, along with others, are what make us uniquely human and separates us from the rest of our animal brethren.  Sapience grants us the ability to think, reason.  Sentience allows us the ability to perceive or to feel things.

As the quote that starts this article so eloquently states, we think as well as feel. We have the ability to think, as in use logic and reason as well as emotion to navigate our way through life and to imprint our world. The two can’t and should not be separated.  Logic and emotion are two halves that comprise a whole. They are needed to maintain balance similar to the concepts of light and dark, good and evil, yin and yang, etc.

With that as the backdrop, I’d like to pose a question. What does the 4th of July Mean to Black Men? That question could be expanded to people of color in general.  However, for the purposes of this discussion I want to focus on the brothers.

Like all humans, I possess both sentience and sapience. As such, I have the ability to think as well as feel. Because I can think and feel, as opposed to one or the other, I find myself of two minds about the aforementioned topic.  I have both a rational and an emotional view of the topic. To explain, please allow me to tell my story.

As I’ve said in previous articles, I am from Charleston, South Carolina originally. Here’s a quick history lesson. More slaves came through the port of Charleston than any other colony and most of them combined.  So, there’s a very real chance that I’m from a place where your ancestors first entered this country.  The slave market is still there. You can literally walk in the place where perhaps, your ancestors were bought and sold as if they were cattle.

The American Civil War was started there because southerners wanted to preserve their way of live that depended on slave labor.  This is a state that fought tooth and nail to continue to fly the confederate flag on its government buildings. My father, who was in 10th grade at the time of integration, told me stories of when he was a boy, the KKK left burning crosses in his front yard on more than one occasion.

I was fortunate enough to have known my great grandmother on my mother’s side. She had been a sharecropper and my grandmother, her daughter, was one of those maids that Viola Davis portrayed in the movie, The Help.

I said all of that to say that I am no stranger to racism. I was literally born into it. I’ve seen it to varying degrees my whole life, as well as indirectly from the stories passed to down to me through my elders that I was fortunate enough to have still around as I was growing up.

After high school, and two years of college I joined the Air Force. I served for 10 years and was deployed multiple times to various places to include Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, as well as Iraq during Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom.

I’ve served with people who are no longer here. For some of them, their stories of bravery and sacrifice will never be told of known but to a few because of the clandestine nature of our work.  Regardless of what you think of the wars, the truth is that they were fought by people who were willing to endure being away from their own families, as well as the possibility of injury or death, to bring freedom to others.

Now that I’ve told you my story, let me ask the question again. What does the 4th of July mean to black men? I have a logical and an emotional answer to that question. The rational answer is that I am an American and as such, those who would harm to us make no distinction between combatants and non-combatants, black or white.  I’ve served with people who no longer here and gave their lives in service to a country, that despite our differences, that we all call home. As Benjamin Franklin said, “If we don’t hang together, we most assuredly will hang separately.”  Logically, I understand that our enemies care nothing of my social, political, or religious beliefs. They only see me as American, and such as an enemy. While imperfect, this is still my home.

Emotionally, I feel no attachment to the 4th of July. My ancestors weren’t set free then. The Emancipation Proclamation technically didn’t free them either. At the time of its inception, there was no way to enforce it. As I said, I’m a veteran, a disabled one at that. I’ve literally served and brought a modicum of freedom to people on the other side of the world, yet in many respects I am a second class citizen in my own country.

As a black man, my live has little value to anyone but me. The police kill my brothers with impunity. Attempts are often made to silence our voice, and refusal is met with reprisal. Despite my ancestors hand in building this country, and our current contributions to its defense, including my own, I’m still seen as less than.  While racism isn’t as overt as it once was, make no mistake, it still exists. It just manifests itself in other forms.

There are more black people in prison that were ever slaves, most of which are black men, often for petty crimes.  I want to be clear. The state that our community finds itself in today was helped by the poor choices that many brothers have made. I’m not absolving them from the responsibility of their choices and actions.  However, desperate times often call for desperate measures. Brothers have been forced to choice between two fucked up choices, based on factors beyond their control that were established long before any of us were born.

So, again I’m of two minds on the topic of the 4th of July. I see from both sides as I have lived both sides of the argument. This year, I’ll do what I’ve always. I’ll gather with the friends and family that I’m fortunate enough to still have and enjoy their company.  I’ll shoot firework for my kids because they enjoy them.

But deep inside, I’ll still hope for the day that I can celebrate the 4th of July in earnest.  Regardless of what you think of Barack Obama, I still remember when he was elected for the first time. I’ll never forget where I was or what I was doing when it became official. The first thing I did was call my grandmother. As I said, her mother, my great grandmother was a sharecropper. I remember asking her to describe to me what it meant to her.  I remember very vividly her saying to me that after all she had seen and been through; she never thought in her lifetime she’d see a day when there would be black president.

I hope one day in my lifetime to have a similar experience. I hope in my life time that I can have a moment with my children, particularly my son that my grandmother shared with me.



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