Red, White, and Black: Imagining “Independence Day” as an Anti-colonialist Event by Steve Clemens. July 4, 2013
My morning started this “Independence Day” listening to Amy Goodman and her Democracy Now! program recount the heroism of Daniel Ellsberg, Senator Mike Gravel, and the Unitarian publishing house, Beacon Press, in “blowing the whistle” and releasing the Pentagon Papers in an attempt to end the war on Vietnam by our government – comparing their acts of courage and conscience to that of Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden today. Later, I spent an hour reading from What Does Justice Look Like? by Dakota author and historian Waziyatawin and then watched the film “42”, the story of Jackie Robinson in breaking the color barrier in professional sports in the United States. It got me thinking about why the July 4th holiday has always been a bittersweet experience for me ever since I became politically aware.
The origins of the myth surrounding the national holiday proclaims the heroic struggles against the colonial domination of the British Empire by individuals and groups willing to risk life and limb to be out from under that system they felt was oppressing them. Throughout the struggle of white colonists in the North American continent, the Indigenous Peoples were cast aside or embraced as allies depending on who the “enemy” was considered to be at that time. Blacks were imported for economic and political reasons and again were considered mere after-thoughts by those declaring their “independence” from King George and his army of Red Coats.
What if, in declaring the end of cooperation with the British colonizers, our “Founding Fathers” [sic] sought interdependence and an end to domination instead of replacing one dominating system with another? What if we saw the Iroquois Confederation or the Delaware/Lenape Nation as peoples to emulate instead of conquering? The Africans who survived the Middle Passage and then sold on the auction block had little to celebrate on July 4, 1776 and given the hostility of the present Supreme Court, not a whole lot more today as their numbers disproportionally fill our jails and prisons. What if the fever of independence from colonialism was allowed to spread among them as well as the whites?
Well, even among the whites, the independence was rather restricted to property-holders and males as far as voting power, even if the benefits of white privilege spilled over to those whites without property and votes.
So does one celebrate the very-limited myth of this holiday with hope and determination to broaden its application - or does one refrain from the public hoopla to deeply reflect on the pressing needs to reclaim a spirit of true anti-colonialism and recommit to continue to nonviolently struggle to resist projects of domination?
The local corporate newspaper (helpfully) reminds us that the anticipated fireworks over the Mississippi River tonight might cause distress to many of our recent military veterans who returned from their deployments with PTSD. The article failed to note that our visiting guests from Minneapolis’ Sister City, Najaf, Iraq, might also have the same reactions - having been on the receiving end of “Shock and Awe” and other such “fireworks” that were designed to continue our latest adventure into domination.
Not watching the fireworks, not flying the Stars and Stripes, not standing for the National Anthem as it is played at virtually every sporting event and many other public events doesn’t seem to me to be enough. If I want to derail the continued colonizing of peoples within and without our national boundaries, merely being silent or sitting is still too complicit. Waziyatawin argues that we need to decolonize our minds by “tearing down the fort” both physically and metaphorically, referring to Fort Snelling, the symbol par-excellence of the domination and genocide of the Dakota people in the land we still call Minnesota, if we want to embrace justice and truth-telling on this day in our nation’s mythical story.
As with our celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. on his holiday, “Independence Day” needs to be less of a “day off” and become rather a day of recommitment. This time, however, with a broader inclusiveness and a determination to end the project of colonization and domination of others.