frederick douglass

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On this Veteran’s Day, What to Black People is the National Anthem?

By Lisa Brock, Academic Director, Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership and Senior Editor, Praxis Center

On July 5, 1852, Frederick Douglass, the prolific abolitionist, delivered his now famous 2000-word speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” His purpose was to illustrate the illogicality of US patriotism—that the values of freedom, liberty and the rights of citizenship for some Americans occurred alongside, and in dialectical relation to the obscene system of enslavement, exploitation, and torture of others. When Colin Kaepernick sat on the bench during the national anthem during the football preseason in August 2016, then took a knee during the anthem a few weeks later to protest police violence, he was making the same point; that there is a speciousness to a song meant to uplift some while being sinisterly imbued with a currency of inequality and state violence against others.

“What to the Slave is 4th of July?”

https://youtu.be/4Vx8cuCGhaU “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 sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, 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.”

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