The Fourth of July: Rejecting Patriotism and american empire

by maya finoh

“Independence Day,” also known as the Fourth of July in the so-called united states, has been bursting at the seams with contradictions since this country’s inception. Landowning european men in the thirteen British settler colonies who were invested in the ‘free enterprise’ tenets of what we now call laissez-faire capitalism, led an armed insurrection against Great Britain: they were interested in creating a government that primarily catered to their needs, and where they would no longer experience taxation without representation. After their successful revolution and the establishment of the american settler state—one that is still rooted in white supremacy and patriarchy—the Fourth of July was chosen to commemorate that day in 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was ratified by these men who built a country on the blood and labor of Indigenous people and enslaved Black folks, now primarily known as the “founding fathers” of the united states.

This day has come to represent a time of celebration of freedom and patriotism in so-called america, regardless of the disturbing truths that lie underneath the surface of the holiday.

While the “founding fathers” were seeking independence from the British monarchy, they simultaneously were cementing the settler presence of the thirteen colonies on the lands of peoples Indigenous to Turtle Island and complicit in the transatlantic slave trade via their use of stolen African peoples’ labor. All of this oppressive violence was perpetuated through an inherently anti-Black and anti-Indigenous white racial hierarchy already infused into colonial law by 1776.

Frederick Douglass touched upon this cognitive dissonance so deeply ingrained in the white american settler psyche in his Independence Day keynote address in 1852, The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro. Douglass delivered this speech from the perspective of not only a slavery abolitionist, but also a formerly enslaved Black person who knew the brutal institution of slavery and its realities intimately: “What, to the american slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to [them], more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which [they are] the constant victim. To [them], your celebration is a sham.” While Douglass’ address is one of the most well-known critiques of celebrating the independence day of this nation that legally permitted chattel slavery and the forced removal of Indigenous peoples from their lands, he was neither the first nor the last to point out the hypocrisy of america.

Whether it be through the genocidal colonial practices that made up the dream of manifest destiny and westward expansion further into Indigenous lands or the destabilization of countries across the Global South in the latter half of the 20th century, america has consistently chosen to be, as Audre Lorde once said, “a country which stands upon the wrong side of every liberation struggle on earth.”

Now in 2024, we are living through a historical moment in which the contradictions of living in america are heightened. Within the last five years alone we’ve witnessed the mass disabling event that is the COVID-19 pandemic be increasingly treated as if it no longer exists by the u.s. government for the sake of returning to ‘normal’ levels of economic productivity; the rolling back of any victories won in the wake of the George Floyd-Breonna Taylor Uprisings of 2020 with more funding going towards police departments and incidents of police killings than ever before; and a mass student-propelled movement in solidarity with Palestinian liberation against the complicity of the united states aiding and abetting the israeli government in its ongoing genocide in Gaza. This is happening alongside the recent Supreme Court decisions to dismantle federal regulatory power and criminalize homelessness. While u.s. government officials continue to pass laws that criminalize freedom of speech and the right to protest, they also continue to steer the media, which influences culture, in ways that suit their insidious agenda as well.

Mainstream popular culture in the united states is reflecting a new articulation of patriotism and escapism via singers, actors, and other creatives. Although americana aesthetics have never completely gone out of style, it is bizarre to see artists include american flag imagery in their music rollouts this year while the major part that america foreign policy plays in our current global atrocities is laid bare. The tour films of wildly popular billionaire artists like Taylor Swift and Beyoncé both screened in israel over the last year, while they both continue to remain publicly silent on the ongoing genocides in Gaza, Sudan, and Congo to protect their economic interests. Ignorance is the american order of business, and we see that clearly in the intensification of israeli war crimes on special days for u.s. entertainment: for example, israel launching attacks and massacring Palestinians in Rafah during the 2024 Superbowl and the Grammys. At the most recent BET Awards, host Taraji P. Henson performed a skit with vice-president Kamala Harris meant to encourage voting for Biden in the upcoming presidential election, making obvious that the role of the celebrity often goes hand in hand with the maintenance of the status quo in america and the manufacturing of consent for violence abroad.

Ultimately, to choose delusion or avoidance in the face of these conditions is to be complicit in the actions of american empire. It is not possible now to toe the line of neutrality in the face of the pervasive military violence that the u.s. government incites across the globe.

Care is the key to combating indifference, and now is the time to be audacious and steadfast in our solidarity with liberation struggles, from Atlanta to Port-au-Prince to Rafah to Goma. Those of us living in the belly of the beast and dedicated to freedom have a duty to abide by this mandate; to make the fight against american imperialism a truly transnational one that goes beyond arbitrarily imposed settler-state borders, and connects the work we have to do here at home with the work of movements across the Global Majority.