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By Tanesha Peeples, Deputy Director of Outreach for Education Post and Chicago Activist
“Independence Day” is upon us. But Black fam’, before we get geeked to partake in such traditions as backyard barbecues and celebratory fireworks commemorating a freedom that didn’t include us—because our ancestors were still enslaved in 1776—I want y’all to remember that we’re real woke now and, as a result, we don’t acknowledge America’s independence day over here in Wakanda.
And if I catch any Black people on social media talking about “Happy Independence Day” on July 4, I’ll have to channel my inner old school Black grandmother spirit and get the proverbial “switch”—which means I’m going to shade you until you feel shame and rethink your actions.
First of all, what did we learn from Juneteenth? We learned that it certainly wasn’t taught in schools because many of us—including myself—didn’t learn about it until we were adults.
And if you’re like me you’ll understand that even though slavery was so-called abolished in 1865 (two years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation), in 2020 we’re still fighting for our freedom and against oppression and racism.
But let’s stay here for a second.
In this week’s episode of Howard’s University — a virtual lecture hall type conversation moderated by my homie, Dr. Charles Cole, with teachings from one of my mentors and favorite activists, Dr. Howard Fuller — Dr. Fuller said something to the extent of, at the time of emancipation, Black people thought freedom would come through education.
I think that’s a reasonable expectation, especially considering the fact that enslaved Africans, our ancestors, lost their lives when they were caught or thought to be trying to educate themselves. Obviously it was an empowerment tool that White people didn’t want us to have.
Fast-forward to today and both remain true. There’s freedom in a quality and anti-racist education but it’s clearly something America still wants to deny Black people. And until we can experience that true liberation in learning and other areas, we are not completely free and should not be indulging in Independence Day festivities.
Now, if we’re on the same page so far and you value equity, equality and access to a quality education but you’re still not convinced that you shouldn’t be celebrating Independence Day, take these things into consideration.
Remember how black codes and Jim Crow allowed the continued use of discriminatory practices that prohibited Black people from intermixing with Whites, particularly in schools? These practices were ruled unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment and Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling but yet, they’ve gone underground and are still effective in perpetuating racism and oppression through segregation today.
Black people still don’t have the freedom to attend schools we want because redlining and school zoning prohibits access—trapping our kids in failing schools where the tax dollars from low-income communities can’t pay for the resources they really need. And the government comes up with every excuse as to why funding formulas and policies to promote equity can’t be reformed.
And ok, if America is still segregationist in attitude but a proponent for freedom then we’d think it would be abolitionist and revolutionary in teaching Black people in the public school system so we can be adequately armed to fight for our independence, right? Because as Sharif El-Mekki says, “While there are many ways to fight racism, a thorough education is a must.”
Well if we led with that thought, many of us would have known about Juneteenth in our elementary years. So we can’t add that to the list of freedoms.
But at the very least, America would be more intentional in implementing culturally competent, diverse curricula and facilitate more conversations in schools that promoted understanding, equality and unity amongst the masses. Well clearly this isn’t happening because with years of racially charged attacks, Nahliah Webber is adamant that schools have to change the way it teaches White kids so that they won’t grow up to continue a tradition of brutalizing Black bodies.
And if you know me, you know I’m hitting the school-to-prison pipeline. Because if America wanted freedom for Black students, it wouldn’t prioritize feeding the prisons over their minds and forcing them into involuntary servitude —which is still upheld by the 13th Amendment.
As Chris Stewart said back in 2017, “They need us to stay put on their academic plantation so they can harvest us for our per-pupil revenue. Black students are the new cotton.”
I’d add that in imprisoning Black people for cheap labor, they just found a new way for us to pick cotton all over again.
After taking all of this in, ask yourself, “Am I really free? Is this my Independence Day?” And even if your answer is “yes” because maybe you were fortunate enough to be able to dodge some of the hardships, consider the fact that as a Black person, you can walk out of your door or be in your home and suffer the same fate as Emmet Till, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Elijah McClain and ask again—I bet your answer changes.
So instead of using your time to plan out fourth of July activities, use it to come up with ways to disrupt these systems that are holding our independence hostage. Because we ain’t completely free yet and this isn’t our independence day.
This post was originally published at Education Post.
Tanesha Peeples is the Deputy Director of Outreach for Education Post. Her mission is to use her education, passion and experience to empower marginalized populations. Born and raised on Chicago’s South Side, she is a Chicago Public Schools alumna and proud Englewoodian. Check out her blogging about “Hope and Outrage.”