If you are a movie fanatic like me, you may recognize the title of this article as a paraphrased quote from First Blood, a popular '80s action movie: “Does my country love me as much as I love it?” I often think about these words before an athletic event when the national anthem is played or sung. I’m guaranteed to shed a tear or two, because I am proud and thankful for my country and all that it has blessed me with.
Growing up I always thought I could achieve anything I wanted with hard work. Later in life I started to question this, not for myself but for others seeking the American dream. One day I asked my wife, who is also very patriotic, if she felt the same because she, too, cries during the national anthem. She indicated that she used to be filled with pride hearing the anthem but, over the past decade or so, she has shed tears because of the inequity that people of color continue to endure. She said she feels more sadness than pride. I began to think about what Independence Day means to me as a Black American.
A Complex History
Independence Day, also known as the Fourth of July, holds complex meanings for Black Americans. While it is a day commemorating the United States’ declaration of independence from British rule, the historical context surrounding the holiday is intertwined with the ongoing struggle for freedom and equality for Black people.
For many Black Americans, Independence Day represents both celebration and reflection. On one hand, it serves as a reminder of the ideals of liberty, justice, and equality upon which the United States was founded. It acknowledges the aspirations of freedom that were central to the American Revolution and the hope that those ideals extended to all citizens, regardless of race.
However, it is important to recognize that during the time of the American Revolution, Black people were often enslaved or faced severe racial discrimination. The promises of freedom and equality enshrined in the Declaration of Independence did not initially apply to them.
A Range of Perspectives
For some, celebrating Independence Day can be seen as a recognition of the progress that has been made in the struggle for civil rights and the ongoing fight against systemic racism. It is an opportunity to highlight the contributions of Black Americans throughout history and to honor the resilience, strength, and perseverance of their ancestors.
At the same time, Independence Day can also serve as a reminder of the continued struggle for full equality. It prompts critical reflection on the gap between the ideals espoused by the nation and the reality experienced by many Black Americans. It serves as a call to action, urging society to address ongoing issues such as racial inequality, police brutality, voter suppression, and socioeconomic disparities.
Many Black Americans find spiritual significance in the pursuit of freedom and justice, drawing upon their faith traditions and the principles of equality and liberation found within them. They may view Independence Day as an opportunity to engage in prayer, reflection, and community gatherings centered around these themes.
In addition, some Black Americans celebrate Juneteenth, which commemorates the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. June 19 holds particular significance for many in the Black community as a day of reflection on the struggles, triumphs, and contributions of their ancestors. It provides an alternative lens through which to view the quest for freedom and is seen by some as a more appropriate occasion for Black Americans to commemorate their liberation.
No Single Story
In summary, the interpretation and spiritual importance of Independence Day for Black Americans is multifaceted. It encompasses a range of emotions and perspectives, from acknowledging progress and celebrating resilience to confronting the ongoing struggle for equality and justice. It is a day that invites reflection, action, and dialogue about the past, present, and future of Black people in the United States.
It’s important to remember the profound challenges of the past and to celebrate the progress that has been made in America. There is more work to be done, but as I look to the future, I can envision a day when I listen to the national anthem without question, feeling only patriotic pride.