My internal struggles of celebrating a country that doesn’t celebrate me
When I was a kid, the Fourth of July was my absolute nightmare. I dreaded it with every fiber of my being and each year my anxiety around it got worse because I was terrified of loud noises. I couldn’t even be around balloons let alone relax outside while erratic and deafening explosions were happening in the air, it was awful. And because I was a weird kid I couldn’t go into the house because then I would be alone and the only thing worse than sky detonations was being alone, so I picked the lesser of two evils and for years I would spend my Independence Day cowering in the hills of West Virginia while my family enjoyed themselves to their heart’s content.
Eventually, my sentiments did begin to shift as I learned more about why we celebrated the holiday. In the fourth grade we spent the entire year on the Revolutionary War and the subsequent years of America’s birth (sans slavery, of course). With this abridged version, I started to fall in love with the story of a Nation that Should Not Have Been. After learning about how much “we” fought for our independence, how much the odds were stacked against “us”, the Fourth of July started to become a beautiful commemoration of our collective history. I started to love watching the fireworks specials on TV (I lived right outside of D.C. and could have gone but old habits die hard), I poured over the PBS specials about the early years of the country, and I started to feel immense pride around the holiday. Also, it didn’t hurt that Obama was in office while I was in high school and it really felt like the world was changing for the better and that progress was tangible.
Wasn’t ignorance fun? I should be more ignorant, but instead when I got to college I was flooded with a hidden history of slavery, and exploitation of Black people that continues today. When slavery was taught to me throughout my school life, it was largely presented as “Bad! So bad! It is the worst! But it is over and they had no other choice.” Before college, slavery and the founding of the nation somehow seemed mutually exclusive. As if once all the paperwork with becoming independent was settled, slavery started and they were not in conversation with each other whatsoever.