When I was a child, I had very petty reasons for being in the doldrums about the fourth of July. Basically my melancholy had everything to do with the menu my mother planned and the clothes she chose for me to wear. Every 4th, my mother would plan a menu that included barbecue ribs, cole slaw, deviled eggs, and plain potato chips. I don’t like any of those foods. It seemed to never occur to her to grill hot dogs, hamburgers, and chicken; never thought about a fruit salad or vegetables. In addition, she would always buy me some red, white, and blue outfit that I was supposed to keep clean while I picked around the fat to find the meat on the ribs while also playing with cousins and friends.

As an adult, I plan my own menu for what I call “grilling holidays” and they don’t typically include anything my mother has on hers (except when my husband wants ribs). In the South though, grilling is not as big of a deal as it is in Cleveland, Ohio. Here, we can pretty much grill year round. Around “grilling holidays” in Cleveland, all I ever hear about are their plans for the day and of the details of that same menu that I still abhor. Then, I get asked about what we’re grilling and I have to go through the whole Southern thing with them. Maybe Southern natives have a different view of “grilling holidays,” but as a Mid-Western transplant, I can’t get with it.

Adulthood has also changed my philosophical, historical, and political views regarding the fourth of July. Frederick Douglass captures much of the sentiment that resonates with the substance of my thinking:

You can follow this PBS link for the full text of Douglass’s speech.

Thinking about Douglass today is relevant for thinking about the status of freedom as it exists in the United States since 1852. What is freedom to 7-year-old Tiana Parker who was sent home from school because of wearing dreadlocks? What is freedom to the African American women in the military whose natural hairstyles may become grooming infractions? What is freedom to black boys walking home from the store after buying Skittles and Iced Tea? What is freedom to 15-year-old Brenton Butler who went searching for a job in the morning only to be detained for six-months in jail for a crime he could not have committed? What is freedom to the American citizen who can love someone of the opposite sex but if they love someone of the same sex they lose the civil right to marry? For so many in the United States, to paraphrase Baby Suggs in Toni Morrison’s Beloved, “the only [freedom] you can have is the [freedom] you can imagine.”

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