Zaina Alsous

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Around the world on the Fourth of July

As we gather this July 4th with our families and our communities, we should treasure these moments of togetherness with our loved ones. Yet, we must also acknowledge that the independence being commemorated has not been won for the people of this land. Every “Independence Day” in the U.S. is an opportunity to return to the invocation of Frederick Douglas’, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”,

Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common...The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.

While Douglas’s timeless speech emanates from the position of an enslaved black man, the epitome of America’s constant practice of erasing the stories of the many to serve the market interests of the few, he also offers a helpful frame for reflection: who is independent in America and who is collateral damage for this facade of independence? In 2018, we incarcerate more people than any other country in the world. We go to war more than any other country in the world. We sell more arms than any other country in the world. What to the prisoner is the fourth of July? The indigenous people who were here before white settlers? The children sleeping in cages within detention centers?

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