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Juneteenth — also known as Independence Day — happened just over two weeks ago. I attended Iowa Juneteenth’s celebration held in downtown Des Moines, went Live on Facebook and interviewed Black business owners about the day that celebrates Black freedom, Black culture and the end of slavery.
If felt joyous watching so many beautiful Black people come together on a sunny day to uplift each other and Black culture. Even though some companies this year tried to commodify the holiday — think Walmart’s Juneteenth ice cream — or mock it — by posting a racist store sign. I predict next year’s Juneteenth celebrations will be bigger than ever now that it’s a federal holiday and awareness has grown.
Another so-called Independence Day is looming on the Fourth of July, and as a Black woman, I feel nothing. I don’t want to hear bad singers warble “The Star-Spangled Banner” or struggle through “America the Beautiful.” I don’t want to hear about what so-called forefathers wrote in documents that didn’t even apply to enslaved people.
July Fourth is just another date on the calendar, and it was like that long before the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson decision, which overturned Roe vs. Wade.
The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the depth of this country’s failings. Our health care system is in shambles. Politicians really are out to get us. Money and power are hoarded by very few, while Americans’ health and wellness are regularly sacrificed for profits. What’s to celebrate?
The July fourth holiday has never moved me. Sure, I’ve set off fireworks, attended some BBQs and took a few road trips. But I’ve long shrugged off rote elementary school indoctrination about this country being the best in the world, the envy of all. I live with the daily awareness of this country’s duplicity. After all, we still spend money adorned with slaveowners’ likenesses. I’m still waiting on those Harriet Tubmans — and those reparations.
Now, with the fall of Roe vs. Wade and the implications of what that will mean and what else it could inspire, this feels like the worst time ever for July Fourth to roll around. Celebrate the red, white and blue? Not likely. Demonstrate, probably. How is this the best country in the world when women’s bodily autonomy is at risk? When hatred and racism appear to be at an all-time high?
Black Iowa News is a partner in the Inclusivi-Tea podcast. During an upcoming episode, Corey Dion Lewis, host of the Healthy Project podcast and co-host Lya Williams and I talked about how unsafe we feel (have always felt) just walking around the city we call home. Unsafe because some white people regard us as threats. Our safety as Black people is only as good as the will of the people around us. We can’t even take a walk in our own city without having to navigate white people’s misperceptions. To ignore it could have deadly consequences — think Ahmaud Arbery. How is that freedom?
These are dark times. Abortion rights are at risk. Americans are politically polarized and drowning in disinformation. Voting rights are under attack, hate crimes are rampant and gun violence is out of control. Heck, Iowa hasn’t even passed the Crown Act, which prohibits race-based hair discrimination.