This is the land of the free, but for whom?
Seven years ago, a lot of non-Black people, even those who believed and supported that racism was bad, were reticent to say that Black Lives Matter. In the wake of George Floyd’s death, the country has been taking to the streets to protest the gruesome manner in which Black lives are dehumanized and dismissed.
Black Lives Matter has become a calling card for a lot of folks around this country in a way it hasn’t before, and a lot of people for the first time seem to be willing to enter the anti-racism conversation within the frameworks of justice and abolition. Anti-racism has come into the mainstream like never before—corporations have made public statements condoning the deaths of Black men at the hands of law enforcement, celebrities and prominent members of various fields have been inviting Black folks to use their social media platforms to talk about their racial experiences in the country, NFL players are apologizing for labeling kneeling players as disrespectful, companies and country bands are even reconsidering decades-old racist branding. In short, a lot has been going on.
A couple of weeks ago was Juneteenth. A lot of people were reckoning with the truth of Juneteenth for the first time, that it was not the day of emancipation, but the day the very last slaves in Texas were informed by General Gordon Granger, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation (1863), that all slaves were free. It is a day that has been celebrated for about 150 years by the African American community. It is only in 2020 that Confederate monuments have been taken down, not all of them, and not by elected officials, but by protesters. It is only in 2020 and in the throes of protests highlighting the deep-rooted racism in this country are many corporates and states recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday (again, not all, and this is while the country still officially recognizes Colombus Day and not as Indigenous Peoples Day).
Yet, as I scrolled through social media in the days leading up to this weekend, I watched several white people—most of the same folks who were throwing themselves into supposed anti-racist work—express their excitement about Fourth of July weekend. Their excitement didn’t seem to be purely about getting to kick back and relax over a long weekend (hello, we’re in a pandemic), but rather, came from a place of patriotism. To these people I ask, have you been paying attention to the events since May 26? Have you been reading all those anti-racism books that you hassled Black booksellers into furnishing to you upon your request after posting a pretty picture of them on your Instagram? Or were you simply virtue-signaling to your white friends? Because trust me, your BIPOC friends aren’t fooled.
It befuddles me that white Americans are able to muster up an iota of pride towards this country given everything they have witnessed since 2016. A president who has made it crystal clear that he cares more about the economy than the lives of the American people, who has labeled Antifa a terrorist organization, said protesters deserved what was coming to them, and yelled his favorite slogan on Twitter again today. A government that is handling the pandemic badly—there were 55,000 new cases of COVID-19 on July 2. Eighteen trans people have lost their lives in 2020 alone. More Black people have died at the hands of the police than during the protests. Every day, there is a story of a white woman in some part of the country either calling the cops on Black people or hurling racist epithets at them for simply existing. Racism is not getting worse, it is getting filmed, as Will Smith said. White people in this country are only beginning to be aware, at the level of a spectator, that life is very different for BIPOC in America. So I ask you—this is the land of the free, but for whom?
I say cognitive dissonance, but the reality is that the dissonance only exists for BIPOC. White people, it seems, have “gone back to normal.” Their normal includes racism and xenophobia and occupying colonized land, and in their normal, these things can be set aside for one day to commemorate their patriotic spirit and respect for this flag. This is not an option for BIPOC in this country. Not while they’re still being harassed and endangered for simply existing. So my request to white people is this—to those of you who have now arrived at the table motivated to do anti-racism work, a big part of that is going to be taking off the rose-colored glasses you wear to celebrate the Fourth of July. Remember that you live on stolen land. Remember that your ancestors enslaved an entire community and the ramifications of that exist even today. Slavery wasn’t abolished, it simply transformed. All those books that you bought to support Black authors and learn about anti-racism, it’s time to read them and then incorporate anti-racist behavior into your daily practice. Thanksgiving is not your only problematic national holiday; you have to have uncomfortable conversations with your relatives more than once a year. You may be required to use your privilege to put your body between a Black person and a cop because the reality is you are treated differently—you are seen as human. Anti-racism work means examining your opportunities and not simply making room at the table for marginalized folks, but to dismantle tables and ivory towers from within. You will be inconvenienced, and it will be hard. But that is the work. So, maybe starting this year, really introspect whether your country is doing right by everyone, and if the answer is no, then ask yourself why that is acceptable and worth celebrating.