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The Washington Post’s “She the People”:

Whose Fourth of July is it, anyway?

By Michelle Bernard

(Courtesy of Capital Concerts )

On July 5, 1852, Frederick Douglass gave a withering speech commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Douglass stated: “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”

This Independence Day, there are many African Americans, as well as other women and other people of color, who are unapologetically devoted to what many describe as “conservative values”: the notion of self-reliance and personal responsibility; individual liberty, freedom, and democracy; comprehensive education reform and parental choice in public education as the key to American prosperity; the moral





Actor Fred Morsell, in character as Frederick Douglass, in front of Douglass’s historic home in Washington. (Bill O’Leary – WASHINGTON POST)

obligation that all Americans have to help those who cannot help themselves; and who believe we must do everything in our power to ensure that achievement of the American dream is possible for all Americans, regardless of race, religion, creed, ethnicity or sex.

Yet, these same Americans also understand that we do not live in a post-racial America, as so many of us had hoped after the election of Barack Obama as the first African American president in U.S. history. Many of these same Americans see that racism, sexism and religious bigotry remain omnipresent parts of the American experience and believe that our political parties cannot pretend that these problems no longer plague us.

This July 4, these same Americans will remember the Republican Party of American greats like Frederick Douglass, President Abraham Lincoln and Sojourner Truth and wonder how that party lost its way. The most vocal and powerful members of today’s Republican Party have made it clear that there is no longer any room in the GOP any African American, woman or person of color who dares to speak out against discrimination and demands justice for all as Douglass, Lincoln  and Truth did hundreds of years ago.

In that 1852 Independence Day speech, Douglass asked:

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.

This July 4, as we celebrate all that is good about America, many will also ponder what independence truly means in light of the indifference to the life of black men demonstrated by the Republican contenders for the Trayvon Martin, 17, (undated family photo)  was shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in February. (Anonymous – AP)

presidency who remained silent or waited days to say anything about the possibility that the killing of Trayvon Martin was racially motivated.  Martin was a 17-year-old African American youth who was killed by George Zimmerman, a white Hispanic man, while walking in a gated community where his father lived armed with nothing more than a bag of Skittles candy and a can of iced tea.

This July 4, as we celebrate all that is good about America, many  will remember then-Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, singling out African Americans in promoting entitlement reform, insinuating that African Americans don’t want to earn a living and simply want a handout. African Americans will remember that, during a campaign event in Iowa in January before a predominantly white audience, former Pennsylvania senator Santorum said, “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.”

This July 4, as we celebrate all that is good about America, many will remember the failure through lack of courage of many Republican presidential candidates to come to the immediate defense of  Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University Law Student who was described as a “slut” and a

Law student Sandra Fluke testified at a hearing before a House committee in February in support of insurance coverage for contraception. (Alex Wong – GETTY IMAGES)

“prostitute” by conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh after testifying before Congress in support of health insurance coverage for contraceptives; the failure of House Republicans to include the protection of all women in their version of the Violence Against Women Act; and the vote in the Virginia legislature requiring women who want an abortion to have an ultrasound, including a transvaginal procedure (later modified to make the procedure voluntary), before the surgery.

This July 4, as we celebrate all that is good about America, many will remember those who supported Arizona’s draconian immigration law, calling it a “model” for the rest of the country, while rejecting the Dream Act that would have provided a pathway to citizenship for some young illegal immigrants.

This July 4, as we celebrate all that is good about America, many Gay rights pioneer Lilli Vincenz, 74, right, and life partner Nancy Ruth Davis, 75, in their home in Arlington in May. (Jacquelyn Martin – AP)

will remember those who stand in the way of all Americans enjoying the right to marry the person they love regardless of their gender.

This July 4, as we celebrate all that is good about America, many, including those who otherwise believe in “conservative principles” will be reminded of  Douglass’s haunting words and will mourn the fact that the Republican Party of today is not the Republican Party of Douglass, Lincoln or Truth. In November, it is quite likely that even those Americans who embrace conservative principles will find a more welcoming home—and all of the promises of “our” Declaration of the Independence—elsewhere.

Michelle D. Bernard is the president and chief executive of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics & Public Policy.  Follow her on Twitter @michellebernard. 



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