Opinion: "Independence" Day
The Fourth of July commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence which made America an independent nation. Many people celebrate Independence Day with cookouts and other fun activities. After the overturning of Roe v. Wade, TikTok users are encouraging people to wear black in support of people who will be affected by abortion bans. While the intent is to show that some are more free than others, it is frustrating to see action being taken only after white people are affected by laws. As people of color (Charlie, an Indigenous Central American, and Aminah, a Black person), July Fourth has never been something to celebrate.
Latine people, domestically and internationally, are being harmed by United States policies. There is a lucrative relationship between the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and private corporations who run detention centers which has resulted in 62% of detention centers being owned by private corporations. Foreign policy as well as corporate contracts require a mandatory minimum of immigrant detainees. This mandatory minimum encourages ICE to detain as many people as possible, regardless of the person’s position in the legalization process. Corporations are profiting from the subjection of immigrants to deplorable living conditions with no guaranteed date of release.
The United States refuses to acknowledge the harms that its foreign policy has caused Latin American countries. While the Fourth signifies democracy and independence, I am reminded of a speech by Haunani-Kay Trask who stated that “[America] has never been democratic to Native people.” The United States has a history of prioritizing its economic and political interests in foreign countries such as Guatemala. The government has destabilized countries by appointing dictators and supplying weapons to apartheid states such as Israel who carry out its economic interest while committing mass genocide—and it continues to do so. The U.S. creates ethnic heritage months instead of passing legislation that protects the Latine community both domestically and internationally. Transnational corporations such as Dole continue to exploit Indigenous people in Latin America who never see the fruits of their labor. Instead, they are subjected to a destabilized government at the hands of the U.S. which leaves them with little to no option but to immigrate to the States where they will be subject to ICE custody.
It is understandable that people are scared for the future of the country. The Supreme Court’s recent decisions violating the liberty of marginalized communities and prioritizing profit over the environment will have implications for years to come. However, it is incredibly important to remember that several groups of people have never been free.
Mainstream backlash against the Fourth of July this year stems from many of the Supreme Court’s recent decisions. Tweets saying things like “4th of july is cancelled this year due to a shortage of independence” capture this frustration.
Despite the frustration, comments like this come across as insensitive. The Fourth of July is touted as the foundation for freedom for all Americans. For marginalized communities, this simply isn’t true.
However, it also took white Americans several decades to make it true for themselves. The rise of factory production resulted in harmful and exploitative labor conditions for white blue collar workers. Labor laws such as a minimum wage, child labor laws and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have minimized some of these dangers. White women won the right to vote through the Women’s Suffrage movement and the eventual passage of the 19th amendment. Eastern European immigrants experienced backlash and prejudice because of their cultural differences. However, second-generation Americans with parents from these countries were accepted when they acclimated to American culture and values.
These freedoms were only limited to white people with these identities. Black women were still unable to vote until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (which is currently at risk of being overturned). Immigration quotas like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 tried to limit the number of Asian people in the country—and any acclimation to American culture and values was not accepted in the same way. Segregation allowed for Black people to be paid significantly less than white people and limited them to the kinds of jobs they could hold.
Once white groups gained their freedoms, the fight to increase access for others stopped. All of these issues still exist today. Current efforts to overturn the Voting Rights Act of 1965, immigration restrictions in 2016 and wage gaps continue to plague these communities.
When it comes to reproductive rights, abortion and bodily autonomy have been stripped away from racial, disabled and queer communities for decades despite Roe v. Wade’s existence. Eugenics has been a common practice against these communities. In North Carolina, a forced sterilization program took place until the late 70s. Procedures took place without the knowledge or consent of patients, targeting Black and disabled adults in their efforts.
BIPOC and low income communities lack accessible reproductive health clinics. Predominantly Black schools rarely teach comprehensive sex education in schools. Most sex education programs nationwide focus on heteronormative sex, resulting in higher rates of depression and anxiety amongst LGBTQIA+ youth.
For Black Americans, a far too common response is for people to focus on Juneteenth as our independence celebration without understanding its context. Juneteenth occurred more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was enacted. It is meant to commemorate when the last group of enslaved people in Galveston, Texas were told of their freedom. It has since become a reference point in history for the fact that Black Americans never had a true document that gave them their freedom outright in the country—we’ve always had to fight for and “earn” it.
White Americans were also forced to fight for and “earn” their freedom. But weren’t fighting against each other or fighting to prove that they were human. They fought against an exploitative government. They were also able to create a country that protected their ideals, a privilege not afforded to marginalized groups.
Oppression isn’t a specific incident for us, but rather, a culmination of them that embody the mentality of harmful systems. The Declaration of Independence demanded freedom for white, male, land-owning Americans while simultaneously participating in the exploitation and oppression of other groups. They asked for freedom from an oppressive government only to build another one.
By Aminah Jenkins, Editor in Chief, and Charlie Hatch, Contributing Writer