By Carlton Joseph
Last Saturday, July 4, the United States celebrated 243 years of Independence. The celebration was muted as the country was dealing with the COVID 19 pandemic and the alarming spike in virus cases. The official U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has now topped 130,000 with nearly 2.7 million confirmed cases of the disease – the worst levels in the world. Ignoring the facts, President Donald Trump once again played down the problems caused by the pandemic,saying, “I think that at some point that’s going to sort of just disappear, I hope.”
Meanwhile, Native Americans, Black and Brown peoples are still fighting for their civil rights, the right to access the promise of independence and their constitutional rights. And I recall the response of abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass to the question : What is the fourth of July to the American slave? “A day that reveals to him, more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is a constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes that would disgrace a nation of savages.”
Unfortunately, Douglass’s words are still true in 2020 because the nation has refused to recognize that threats to safety and security emanate from the failure of the institutions of the country to address the issues of health, education, violence and poverty. The nation has failed to reorganize and restructure post-slavery society in order to guarantee the incorporation of those who had been formerly enslaved. The nation clings to the belief that this country was built, by White people for White people, without accepting that it was Black free labor that created the original capital foundation upon which the nation was built. The nation continues to promote and conduct wars all over the world, especially the Black and Brown world.
Interestingly, America is able to send its troops to dominate Black and Brown peoples in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and other parts of the world using military personnel that are made up of a significant number of Black and Brown people. The total active duty enlisted personnel in 2018 amounted to 1.3 million- 60 percent white, 19 percent black, 17 percent Brown, Asians and other minorities 4 percent. Is this how we make America Great again? Using previously enslaved and recently debased peoples to dominate people in other countries.
The American revolution wasn’t only an effort to establish independence from the British. It was also a push to preserve slavery and suppress Native American resistance. Today, Trump is doubling down on his defense of the statues of racists, slave owners and colonizers that protesters have been pulling down across the country. He signed an executive order to prosecute people who deface federal monuments, and withhold federal funds from cities that don’t protect the statues. And tweeted he would veto any bill that renames military bases named after Confederate General Robert E. Lee or others. He is intentionally championing his racism and trying to mobilize his base around racist ideas.
I am disappointed in Trump. When he became President, I wrote that, although I did not vote for him, I believed that as a businessman he would be pragmatic and that he would do what is best for the country. I was wrong. He is not pragmatic, he is definitely not a good businessman and he is not doing anything that would benefit the country. Some people might insist that we look at the stock market. I contend that the stock market has very little to do with the economic wellbeing of the society. It tells us how much wealthier the rich are getting.
After months of a pandemic-induced contraction, the economy started rebounding faster than many economists expected from mid-April into June, as infection rates stabilized or fell across much of the country and the federal government injected trillions of dollars in the economy. States began to reopen, shoppers increased their spending and employers started to rehire furloughed workers. Unfortunately, mixed messages from the White house concerning the use of masks has resulted in a surge of coronavirus cases.
On the eve of Independence Day, President Trump celebrated at the foot of Mount Rushmore National Memorial with a fireworks display. The president called the Black Lives Matter Movement a “merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values and indoctrinate our children.” On Independence Day, he claimed that 99 per cent of coronavirus cases in America are “totally harmless. And that American heroes defeated the Nazis, dethroned the fascists, toppled the communists, saved American values, upheld American principles and chased down the terrorists to the very ends of the earth.”
I’m flabbergasted, Is this the same guy who sought medical deferment exempting him from military service during the Vietnam war? Is he including himself with the military heroes? Does he understand that Black people fought those fights and returned home and did not enjoy the freedom they thought they were fighting for? What American values and principles did they enjoy when they returned home? Did they benefit from the GI Bill? Did they get low interest housing or free education or jobs? Today, Native Americans (25.4 per cent) and Black Americans (20.8 per cent) experience the highest poverty rates of all groups in America. Ironic, since the people whose land was stolen and the people whose labor build the wealth are now the wretched of the earth in America.
On this Independence Day, I reflected on the situation in Venezuela, where the people are being punished with economic sanctions by the US government because they want to run Venezuela for Venezuelans and not for the oligarchs in the Western World. I empathize with the Palestinians, whose lands have been stolen to create a state for Israel while they are stateless and are brutalized daily. I mourn for the special needs student who was shot to death by Israeli forces in occupied East Jerusalem. He was reportedly chanting “Black lives matter” and “Palestinian lives matter,” when Israeli police gunned him down, claiming he was armed.
Frederick Douglass ended his independence address saying, “We need the storm, the whirlwind, the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed.”
I believe that we are at that juncture: the passions of the multiracial youth have been roused and the hypocrisies of the nation have been exposed. Biden called on Americans to “commit to finally fulfill America’s founding principle that all men are created equal. We have a chance now to give the marginalized, the demonized, the isolated, the oppressed a full share of theAmerican dream. We have a chance to rip the roots of systemic racism out of this country.”
I am not a Joe Biden fan but I am encouraged that he might have learnt something from the events of the past months.