Detention centers at the southern border are filling rapidly with children of illegal immigrants, the Supreme Court ruled to uphold President Donald Trump’s travel ban, and the Trump administration has decided to withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council—and United States’ holiday to celebrate freedom and the American way is rapidly approaching. In this age of political turmoil, uncertainty, and dissent, the question arises as to how we should celebrate one of the country’s most patriotic and deeply respected holidays: the 4th of July.
Photo: Jim Strasma on Unsplash
Typically, Americans celebrate Independence Day with fireworks, barbecues, baseball games, and spending time with family and friends. It’s a holiday that, at least for me, has always been a day to set aside political differences with my family and celebrate the freedoms that we enjoy in the United States. This year, however, in a sharply divisive and increasingly polarized America, the holiday takes on new meaning. When I talk with my relatives about politics, it’s no longer a debate over tax rates or overseas spending, it’s whether or not we should detain immigrant children and separate them from their parents, or if we should allow people from Muslim majority countries into the U.S. When these are the issues that divide our country, it might seem futile or even insulting to celebrate America’s supposed standards of freedom and equality.
When thinking about what the 4th of July means in America this year, it might help to take a step back and think globally about what the holiday means in other countries. For example, July 4th in the Philippines is Republic Day, when the Philippines celebrates gaining independence from the U.S.—because yes, even though the United States rebelled against a colonial power, we are a colonial power ourselves. Another example of a July 4th celebration comes in Rwanda, for their Liberation Day; this commemorates the end of the Rwandan genocide, in which the U.S. notably did not intervene to help.
So while Independence Day in America is typically seen as a holiday for hyper-nationalism and intense patriotic gestures, it is important to take into account the entire scope of what America stands for not only within our country, but on a global scale as well. We are celebrating our declaration of freedom from Great Britain, but at the time of that declaration in 1776 we were still engaged in and profiting from slave labor and slave trade. Americans saw Native Americans as savages and animals, and colonizers had killed a large portion of their population. Women, despite playing a large role in America’s revolution, were still entirely second class citizens with very few individual rights.
So how do we celebrate Independence Day this year, knowing not only what America has stood for in years past, but what we stand for now?
To the world, we are a people celebrating freedom and equality in a nation that systemically imprisons our black population with a president who calls some immigrants “animals” instead of people. Is it wrong to celebrate when this is the country we are today?
In my opinion, this depends on how you decide to interpret the word celebrate. You can choose to have a fireworks show, hang out with friends, eat a hot dog, and watch a baseball game, and those are all perfectly acceptable celebrations. But you could also take some time this 4th of July to exercise the rights granted to you by our country—write a letter to your local representatives, participate in a protest or gathering on an issue you care about, or create a petition to help others make their voices heard as well. To celebrate Independence Day, take advantage of the freedoms you enjoy to help others achieve freedom and equality as well.
Abigail is a rising sophomore at Emerson College studying for a BFA in creative writing. She spends most of her free time during the year working for her school newspaper, but also enjoys going to poetry readings, spending time with friends, and cheering for her hometown Philadelphia sports teams.