Reflecting on Independence Day and Not Celebrating It

Writing for the Huffington Post, Pastor William H. Lamar IV contends that African-Americans shouldn’t celebrate the false sense of freedom the 4th of July emanates but rather reflect on America as what it historically was and what it currently is — a place where he is surrounded by “economic bondage, educational bondage, political bondage, health care bondage and religious bondage…”

There will be fireworks and Sousa. But I am sticking with Flav and Frederick. Why? I find little to celebrate. Douglass calls the Fourth “your holiday.” He does not own it. What happened to white Americans in 1776 was hardly felt by many black Americans in 1976. He calls the founders “your fathers.” He does not own them. And I cannot own them. They never intended for my ancestors to be anything but human cogs in the wheel of their economic prosperity. That is a fact. To forget that is to trample upon the bones of my forbears. I must reflect upon my ancestors’ elusive dream of freedom.

The government and the corporate media celebrate as patriots those who are uncritically supportive of America’s imperial exploits. That is not my heritage. I am Richard Allen’s son, the first black man to write a political pamphlet challenging America’s white supremacy. And we must keep writing. I am Ida B. Wells Barnett’s son, the powerful black woman who refused to let America lynch black bodies without sounding the alarm of outrage. And we must continue to speak up for those crushed by American violence masquerading as law and order. I am Bayard Rustin’s son, the black man who strategically organized people and resources to challenge the status quo and to demand justice from America. I am William H. Lamar III and Eartha A. Lamar’s son. I am only one generation removed from the ugliness of legal oppression in America. How can I celebrate liberty with bondage — economic bondage, educational bondage, political bondage, health care bondage, and religious bondage — all around me? On July 4, 2013, I will reflect on America as it was and as it is. And I will affirm my allegiance to my ancestors whose fight lives on in me.

Read William H. Lamar IV’s entire piece at the Huffington Post.

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By the Time I Get to Arizona: Public Enemy and MLK Day

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By Nick Westbrooks

As an admirer of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a fan of Hip-Hop music, I reflect on the classic 1991 Public Enemy song “By the Time I Get to Arizona.” The song and video is a response, and to me a diss track, to former Arizona governor Evan Mecham’s opposition to observing Dr. King’s holiday.

Music website Song Facts provides the background:

“The song deals with former Arizona governor Evan Mecham, who faced harsh criticism during his time in office after he refused to recognize Martin Luther King’s birthday as a national holiday. John McCain was an Arizona senator at the time, and in 1983 he opposed creation of a federal holiday to honor King. He later admitted that this was a mistake, and in 1990 supported the holiday. The music video stirred some controversy, as it depicts the group assassinating the governor with a car bomb. The song and the video are Public Enemy at their most militant, implying that they will use force to advance their agenda.”

In addition to the assassination, the video depicts the racism common in the Jim Crow south along with the acts of resistance executed by African Americans in response. It’s a polarizing song/video. On one side, Gov. Mecham’s refusal to observe the holiday can be seen as racist, and Public Enemy may be applauded for speaking out. On the other hand, Dr. King’s philosophy emphasized nonviolence, and the depictions of PE’s militia, the S1W’s, performing target practice and placing an explosive under the governor’s limo may be perceived as hypocritical.

Chuck D raps:

“Wait I’m waitin’ for the date
For the man who demands respect
‘Cause he was great c’mon
I’m on the one mission
To get a politician
To honor or he’s a gonner
By the time I get to Arizona”

I also notice genealogical undertones in Chuck’s threats to the governor. The renderings of violence in the video are reminiscent of the 1968 riots in reaction to King’s assassination. Since, Arizona was merely one of two states refusing to observe King’s birthday as a holiday (New Hampshire was the other), I doubt that Public Enemy would incite national riots on a similar scale.

One may consider assassinating Gov. Mecham to be extreme, but as appreciators of Hip-Hop, we should commend PE for applying its musical genius and aesthetics to this social and political cause. The group should also be recognized for its conscious lyrics and its attention on matters important to Black people while appealing to the youth. Just like any issue affecting Blacks, we may agree that we’re there’s injustice, but we usually disagree about how to go about implementing solutions. Watch the video below.