Sure, we celebrate many holidays here in the United States, but do all citizens feel included within those holidays and are we doing the history of each day—of all the events that built up to one day–justice? Even at first glance it seems the answer to this question is ‘no’. I hate to admit it, but until I came across this paper, I hadn’t thought about what the fourth of July would have meant for slaves or recently freed slaves back in the 1800’s and even today for people of color. As we discussed Frederick Douglass’ analysis of what the fourth of July means to him and his history within America, I began thinking about how applicable his sentiment is to contemporary society.
Shklar argued for the existence of two necessary pathways to gain citizenship: the right to vote and the right to earn. While, one may gain legal citizenship status once these two rights are gained—are you a full-fledged citizen if you don’t feel included in what the country is celebrating? After all, celebrations should reflect the values of a community. If the values which are being celebrated are not aligned with large portions of the citizenry, it may mean large portions of the citizenry do not feel truly included.
Reading Douglass’ account reminds us of how valuable a diverse reflection and perspective on the nation’s holidays can be even to this day. In fact, there are contemporary arguments for the infamous Columbus Day to be replaced with a more historically accurate Indigenous People’s Day. As Leo Killsback, and ASU professor, argues, “Columbus Day is not just a holiday, it represents the violent history of colonization in the Western hemisphere.” It is never just a holiday, it has implications based on the language used and the focus of the day. What would diverse American citizens, most likely those of minority populations, say about other American holidays—Thanksgiving for example.
The celebrations could improve in their accuracy of the representation of the historical events, while still allowing for a celebration. A rhetoric could be developed which allows for atrocities to not merely be glossed over and for celebration of our progress to still be acknowledged. It’s true we can move on and progress, but we can only do so properly if we truly know where we’ve been–the language used around national celebrations of history inform us of just that, where we’ve been.
Throughout the paper, Douglass uses language such as “your nation” and “this Fourth of July is yours, not mine”. How many citizens today are feeling pushed aside–oppressed by varying degrees–so much so that they feel as if this is “your nation”, but surely not theirs. Their nation would value them, their history and their family. The way we celebrate speaks to what is important to us. America could and should improve in how it celebrates its national holidays. First, we can turn to those of diverse lineage and perspective to ask them, “Do you resonate with Douglass’ words? Is this your nation?”
Footnote: Just as a side note, while I was researching Indigenous People’s Day, I came across an article written by a stark opponent of the day’s creation, Michael Graham (2017). If you glance over his article, he seems to use much of the rhetoric which concerned us in the Tocqueville text, painting indigenous populations as savage, cannibalistic and so on. View Graham’s (2017) article here: http://thefederalist.com/2017/10/09/indigenous-peoples-day-far-worse-columbus-day/
Leo Killsback’s remarks can be found here: http://www.history.com/news/goodbye-columbus-hello-indigenous-peoples-day