For many, the Fourth of July is synonymous with jubilation; fireworks, parades, hot dogs, and flashy displays of red, white, and blue. For others, it’s a day of reflection on the meaning behind patriotism.
This year, the Fourth marks the 246-year commemoration of the Second Continental Congress passing the U.S, Declaration of Independence, repudiating British rule and advocating for equitable freedom. Often credited as being the essence of Americana, the Declaration of Independence fell short on its promise for some. Since its ratification, the document failed to include both the genocides of indigenous communities and those who were abducted and forced into American slavery, which, until 1865, was still not federally illegal.
The declaration challenged the King of Great Britain: “For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury,” one excerpt reads. “He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people” — sentiments that even now, Americans can relate to with concern to the U.S. government.
Recent U.S. Supreme Court actions — the reversing of Roe v. Wade, and efforts to hinder climate change mitigation — add to local conversations, such as the Oak Bluffs select board’s refusal to acknowledge and raise the Juneteenth flag, a symbol of African American independence.
Current affairs add weight to the already troubled and solemn history regarding the relationship among the U.S. and indigenous and Black communities, and in turn, triggers some Americans to rethink the meaning of patriotism; some are declining to celebrate Independence Day altogether.
NAACP MV President Arthur Hardy-Doubleday told The Times that this year, finding cause to embrace and celebrate the holiday is particularly challenging. “It’s hard to be patriotic this Independence Day,” he said, “given the recent decisions of the Supreme Court.”
The Martha’s Vineyard Black Lives Matter organization, via member Lexi Lodd, issued a statement to The Times, in regard to the observance of July 4, which read, “As our country celebrates July 4th, MV BLM affirms the principles of a multiracial society outlined in the post-slavery amendments to our Constitution — necessary amendments to undo the violence and injustice enshrined in our country’s founding. The visionaries who fought for freedom, our second founders, released us from the establishment of slavery and tyranny. Their efforts offer a road map for the years ahead. We are in the grips of the most difficult struggle our nation has ever faced. We are committed to fight for equity, justice, and our democracy. We hope you will be with us in this struggle.”
Echoing the sentiment, Martha’s Vineyard Diversity Coalition, via Sandra Pimentel, stated, “While many of us who call ourselves Americans celebrate Independence Day with grateful delight, parades, and fireworks, the recent reflection on our history and the truth that relates to it helps us to understand that Independence Day does not generate the same feelings of joy for all of us. The Martha’s Vineyard Diversity Coalition believes that we as a people have the capacity to fully understand the reality of our history, and in the process of learning, we can come together in a way that allows all of us to feel and experience freedom equally and together.”
When speaking with The Times, the tribal historic preservation officer for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), Betinna Washington, highlighted that issues among the European newcomers and the native peoples started before the United States of America was formed. “We fight twice over for this country,” she said. “[For] our ancestral lands, and then in service to the country it is now.” Washington said there is a remarkably high percentage of Native Americans who serve in the U.S. military. The reason is, “it is a duty,” she said. On if and how the tribe as a whole celebrates Independence Day, Washington said perhaps individual tribal members choose to honor the day, but there is no event or activity designated for it.