On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence, a document that declared the 13 colonies under the control of and at war with Great Britain to be independent entities. Within the document's Preamble is the following phrase:
We 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.
Please note that at the time, these unalienable Rights were reserved only for the white male inhabitants of this burgeoning nation. Woman and African slaves were not afforded many, if any of the rights outlined here.
In 1789, the Articles of Confederation were replaced with what would be known as the United States Constitution. This document set the tone for law and order throughout the entire young nation. Once again, the rights defined in this document were reserved only for the white male inhabitants of this nation. Women and African slaves were not afforded many, if any of the rights outlined here.
The founding fathers' failure to put paid to the question of whether a country should actually declare itself a genuine symbol of freedom when it was willing to quietly tolerate and ignore the subjugation and enslavement of millions of people in its own borders eventually led to the American Civil War, in which the southern states sought to secede to protect their interest in the "peculiar institution," among other reasons. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, an executive order calling for the freedom of nearly 3.1 million slaves within the Confederate states. Approximately 50,000 were immediately set free, with more to come as Union troops made short work of Confederate forces.
Lincoln's gesture is sometimes seen as magnanimous, but it was more a tactical maneuver designed to deprive Confederate forces of their readily available pool of manual labor and a potential source of "volunteers" to draft into service. As Lincoln said himself in his August 1862 letter to Horace Greeley:
If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. . . . I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.
Lincoln's first and foremost goal was to save the Union. Whether he realized that this action, along with the eventual defeat of the Confederacy in 1865 would sew the seeds of resentment, revenge and low-level retribution in the Deep South would remain uncertain, as he didn't live long enough to see any of that.
Hopscotching over the Black Codes, Jim Crow, Separate but Equal, the Civil Rights Movement and the pubic hair on Clarence Thomas' Coke can, we come to Chris Rock, whose Fourth of July tweet upset the delicate sensibilities of many Independence Day celebrators:
Happy white peoples independence day the slaves weren't free but I'm sure they enjoyed fireworks
— Chris Rock (@chrisrock) July 4, 2012
Yep, this is what got him yelled at throughout the Internet and Twitter. Maybe he should have let Louis C.K. or some other white American comic "unironically" fire this one off.
Look at it this way -- during the first 89 years or so of this country's official existence, black Americans had little, if nothing to celebrate about. Most were enslaved and the scant few fortunate enough to buy their freedom could not enjoy it as their white counterparts could. For at least a hundred years afterwards, black Americans were officially second-class citizens, denied the full and unalienable rights given to their white counterparts (which now included white women). Today, efforts continue to remind black Americans that even though a guy who mostly looks like them is now the President, their black asses are still not deemed worthy of the unalienable rights they fought and died to get and to enjoy.*
For the past 188 years or so, that part in the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence was, as far as blacks were concerned, a lie. And yet people still expect black Americans to suck it up, put on their patriotic faces and wave those flags around like good Americans. People expect the same of the native Americans, nevermind how the U.S., for all intents and purposes, ethnically cleansed tribe after tribe, leaving mere remnants to drink themselves into depression and death on the reservations. If someone did that to your people, it'd probably drive you to drink, too.
Black Americans have more to celebrate about Juneteenth than Independence Day. Too bad everyone tends to forget about Juneteenth. As Ta-Nehisi Coates once mentioned, everything surrounding the American Civil War is treated as a series of tragic events, at least outside of Confederate war re-enactments and antebellum society balls. Actually celebrating Juneteenth the same way we do the Fourth of July is more or less a breach of established decorum -- everything has to be Ken Burns-grade somber, like visiting the grave of an old friend. You wouldn't dance on your old friends grave...unless you hated him, right?
Perceived hatred. That's another thing that annoys me about the bitching that comes when black Americans speak up and speak out. Chris Rock's tweet was immediately construed as some sort of hatred for the Fourth of July and consequently, a hatred of white people and America. How the hell does that happen?
Apparently, unless black Americans remain in the role of white America's best (black) friend, offering only flattery, positive advice and a shoulder to lean on when they're not busy making white America look good, blacks are immediately assumed to harbor some sort of deep-seated hatred for white folk. It's almost as though it speaks to an innate fear that practically every white American has had since one of their forefathers came up with the idea of bringing black slaves onto the country: a sudden and swift revenge riot that ends with countless white heads on sticks and countless white women claimed as trophies. White America's been waiting for a "payback/revenge" plot** that most likely will never materialize. We've proven we're much better than that.
A lot of people don't want to hear the truth, especially when it comes to this country's screwed-up ethnic relations. Chris Rock tweeted an uncomfortable truth and many of us proved we couldn't handle it. We have to do something about that and it doesn't include shouting a great comedian into silence.☨ Maybe we should give that whole "unalienable rights" thing another go, this time, for all Americans, no matter their ethnicity.
* These days, even the white men and women whom were guaranteed these unalienable rights are losing them, bit by bit.
** If some of these folks started listening to James Brown's "The Payback," they'd probably get the wrong idea and piss themselves in a fit of conspiracy theorizing.
☨ Because if there's something that's practically impossible, it's shouting down a great comedian.