I want to get excited about Independence Day. I want to fully appreciate the delegates who signed the Declaration of Independence, a historical document that signaled the end of the colonial link to England. However, before I can appreciate the artful rhetoric of Thomas Jefferson, I am reminded that he was a rapist and suggested that the true companions for black women were orangutans. I am reminded that, at the inception of the nation, my ancestors were considered (by the federal government) to be 3/5 of a human being. I am reminded that while being forced to pick tobacco in the summer sun, slave women were preyed upon by white slave owners and overseers.

On July 5, 1852, Frederick Douglass delivered one of his most influential speeches to a white audience. “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” highlights the accomplishments of white Americans and their ability to provide freedom and opportunity for themselves. But, despite their accomplishments and their quest for freedom, a group of people remained enslaved under their watch.

Much has changed since 1852. Black people are no longer enslaved by civilians and have the legal right to organize and protest. Although these advances were made, black people are still living under similar circumstances.


1. Mass Incarceration of Black and Latino Men in The Prison-Industrial Complex

After Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs in 1970, the amount of people in prison dramatically increased despite the stagnant numbers of criminal activity. Most of those arrested were people of color, which altered the demographic makeup of prisons. After the inauguration of Ronald Reagan, the war on drugs intensified, honing in on inner-city neighborhoods that predominately house blacks and latinos. Although studies continue to show that whites use drugs at the same rate as blacks and are more likely to be drug dealers, the makeup of the prison system is largely blacks and latinos. In what Michelle Alexander has described as “the New Jim Crow,” “millions of blacks arrested for minor crimes remain marginalized and disfranchised, trapped by a criminal justice system that has forever branded them as felons and denied them basic rights and opportunities that would allow them to become productive, law-abiding citizens.” This new Jim Crow has taken black men from communities, contributing to the stereotypical absentee hype.

The push to put black folks behind bars is fueled by American capitalism. In private prisons, prisoners work for pennies to make and produce goods for industries such as agriculture, telecommunications agencies, and food packaging and processing. Many see this as a new form of slavery for black people because their free labor is supplied on the basis of a racial disparity.

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2. Voter Suppression Laws

Voter ID laws require people to present proper identification when at the polls. This law was said be introduced as a way to curb voter fraud, something that rarely happens. Although these IDs are free, they require citizens to present documents such as a birth certificate, which is $25 to purchase. This may seem like a small amount to some, but when you’re working a job that pays $7.25 an hour and you’re trying to raise a family of four, that’s a lot of money.

This Republican-backed legislation negatively impacts black people, especially those that live in absolute poverty. Essentially, this law makes it so that representatives don’t have to attempt to appeal to a demographic in their district. Thus, the ability of millions of black people to make their voices heard through the electoral process is once again silenced.

3. Police Brutality

In a few weeks, the anniversaries of the death of Eric Garner and Michael Brown will be upon us. These two deaths helped to bring to the forefront a problem black people have been fighting against since the end of slavery — police brutality. Not a week goes by where I don’t happen upon a video that shows a black woman or man being beaten and bludgeoned by a cop.

4. Racism in the Name of Southern Heritage

The massacre in Charleston last month brought about national debate over the existence of the Confederate flag on state grounds. Many see the Confederate battle flag merely as a symbol and a reminder that their ancestors stood up to the oppressive federal government. Many white southerners cling to their battle flag as a symbol of the attempt to set up a nation free from northern tyranny. It was also established, according to the Vice President of the Confederate States of America, Alexander H Stephens, under the notion that “the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.” The battle flag was again adopted in the 60s by southern governments to show their resistance to desegregation and integration.

So while many southern whites revel in the past, wishing to go back to the days of beautiful cotton fields and Scarlett O’Hara, I am reminded that during the war, my ancestors were beaten, had their families ripped apart and were forced to work, sun-up to sun-down, making a profit to clothe and feed the mouths of their plantation owners. I am reminded that during integration, my grandparents and great-grandparents were spit upon and beaten, all during attempts to go to school or purchase lunch.

Although there is so much affecting our everyday lives, we have hope. We have the voices of Black Twitter, writers, and the #BlackLivesMatter movement. We have the inspiration from those such as Stokley Carmichael, Assata Shakur, Angela Davis and Martin Luther King Jr., who went before us and paved a way for us to occupy and march on. We have hope, history and God on our side. We have nothing to lose but our chains.

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