The My-Stery: Some Thoughts on the 4th of July…
As I get older and learn more about the world, I am increasingly less impressed or ecstatic about holidays, Independence Day included. Can I really celebrate completely and wholeheartedly a country that was built off the enslavement and imprisonment of others and a country where I do not fully feel free and independent? That freedom and independence that is so celebrated is only reserved for a few. I need independence day to be re-imagined for the past, present and future.
First, I will like to go back in time and take a look at Frederick Douglass’ speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” :
…I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, lowering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrecoverable ruin! I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people!
“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. Yea! we wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there, they that carried us away captive, required of us a song; and they who wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.”
Fellow-citizens; above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, “may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!” To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then fellow-citizens, is AMERICAN SLAVERY. I shall see, this day, and its popular characteristics, from the slave’s point of view. Standing, there, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible, which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery-the great sin and shame of America! “I will not equivocate; I will not excuse;” I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just…
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 sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, 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.” – Frederick Douglass speech on July 5, 1852 in Rochester, New York
Now back to the future with D. Denenge Akpem’s “Are you ready to alter your destiny?”:
This Independence Day, let us consider a different kind of liberation: Afro-Futurism.
From El Saturn Records to free-flowing jazz conversations with poet Henry Dumas to endless name variations of his Solar Arkestra–a play on orchestra and Noah’s ark–to true accounts of space abduction and exploration: Sonny Blountt aka Sun Ra was the real deal: prolific jazz genius, human-alien hybrid, intergalactic space traveler, reluctant prophet.
In the iconic 1974 Space is the Place, he makes plans to “teleport the whole planet through music,” with a chant “Calling Planet Earth” imploring folk to rediscover “the music of yourself.” Sun Ra believed that music was a literal teleportation device; the central control panel of his spaceship in the film is a combination organ/studio mixing board. In Traveling the Spaceways: Sun Ra, the Astro Black and Other Solar Myths,[i] Kerry James Marshall writes “Sun Ra is part of a long tradition of radical, Black Liberation ideologues…a combination of real-politic and myth-o-poetics.” For musician and composer David Boykin of Sonic Healing Ministries “Sun Ra’s social and political stance was not overtly but clearly a black nationalist perspective…In free jazz, the ‘free’ is self-determination, sovereignty, being independent to be who you are. With Sun Ra it took shape in how he controlled his creative output.”
Afro-Futurism is an exploration and methodology of liberation, simultaneously both a location and a journey. The creative ability to manifest action and transformation has been essential to the survival of Blacks in the Diaspora. “Black Secret Technology (The Whitey on the Moon Dub)” Julian Jonker writes, “Black Americans have literally lived in an alien(-n)ation for hundreds of years. The viscerality of their abduction is equaled only by the ephemerality of the bonds which the disciplinary state has since imposed on them.” Similarly, Boykin notes that in this context, “freedom is futurist…”
In “Bopera Theory” Amiri Baraka instructs us to “step outside the parameters of this society’s version of just about everything…Add five more senses to the five we know…Our use of the rhythm and motion and image become a social force, grasped by the people…”[ii] Afro-Futurism is rooted in history and African cosmologies, using pieces of the past, technological and analog, to build the future. These works rethink and rework notions of identity; hybridity; the alien and states of alienation; belonging, immigration, migration; and the “vessel” both corporeal and metaphoric, symbolized as a vehicle for liberation. Afro-Futurism asks: what does “Blackness” or “liberation” look like in the future, real or imagined?…