July 4th. A day that brings even the most unpatriotic people out to the BBQ wearing red, white, and blue. I was excited to be able to celebrate Independence Day in an iconic revolutionary city. It may have been a figment of my imagination but, the atmosphere during the days leading up to the fourth felt like those leading to Christmas. People seemed cheery and the color scheme on the streets transitioned to that of the American Flag.
Our Boston DukeEngage group decided to spend the holiday together. We had a homemade family style brunch then spent the day at the esplanade before ending our celebrations watching the fireworks from the top floor of our dorm. It was a beautiful day full of positive vibes and great company. However, as the day progressed I couldn’t help but question who this holiday really benefited.
As I looked around at the faces surrounding me, I realized most of us were celebrating a holiday that did nothing for us. This day marks the independence of America and the adoption of a Constitution that did not apply to my, and a lot of those around me, ancestors (and wouldn’t for literally hundreds of years). As I waved my mini American flag and was dressed in red, white, and blue I realized that this celebration is not one of “independence from tyranny” and “freedom for all” when a significant proportion of the population was excluded from the law protecting their rights. Even more disturbing is that this exclusion still applies today.
Though we’ve made significant progress since the signing we still have a long way to go. While I was celebrating with friends there were 137,000 people sitting in jail for drug possession. Police make more arrests for marijuana possession than all other violent crimes combined. Of this population, majority are Black and Latino. Until recently, racially based gerrymandering took place in Duke’s very own backyard in an effort to lessen black voting strength. Women are still fighting for a choice in their healthcare and in having access to affordable basic medical services.
We are not in 1776 anymore though the same restrictive application of freedoms and rights still apply. July 4th was a day of reflection. A day that made me analyze the history of the United States and all the terms and conditions on who can enjoy America’s “freedom”. My day was bookended with fireworks and sparklers and while I reap the benefits of this country, there are still thousands who do not. Our pledge of allegiance ends with the line “with liberty and justice for all”. However, the “for all” seems to have an asterisk next to it. Until this statement is true at face value, it’s important to keep questioning and critiquing the association of freedom, democracy, and equality with the United States of America.