What to the Learner of Color Is Your 4th of July?

 Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass was an emancipated slave described as brilliant, eloquent, and determined. He escaped slavery in 1838 and became a powerful leader of the anti-slavery movement. In 1852, he was asked to speak in celebration of the Fourth of July. 

His words still ring true and, interpreted under a different light, underscore the current state of public education for children of color in the United States today. I chose to take a bit of interpretive license in my blog post of today, examining his message as though it were written for our learners of color.

Read Frederick Douglass’ full bio here.

 

Douglass: Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

 
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What have the learners of color received as a benefit of this celebrated independence? Are the benefits of a high quality public education truly extended to them? How can we celebrate when the courts state that the children of Detroit do not have a “fundamental right” of “access to literacy?” How do we celebrate the benefits of freedom for learners of color in the midst of a summer where immigrant brown children remain locked in detention centers?

Douglass: 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 today?

Our learners of color have little to celebrate on this anniversary. NAEP scores still demonstrate a significant, measured achievement gap between them and their white peers. The blessings of independence are not enjoyed by them. Their free, public education leaves them in blighted schools with mocking commitment to early childhood education, high dropout rates, low literacy rates, and a pipeline to prison.
 
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Douglass: What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is a constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes that would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.

What to the learner of color is the Fourth of July? Were s/he enlightened, it would reveal the gross inadequacy of his/her education, the AP classes for which s/he is underprepared, the colleges s/he will never attend. Where is the equity for the learner of color, even more so if s/he is also of poverty? We allow these learners an educational system that many of us in education would never tolerate for our own children. In that lies fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy. When our rising graduation rate is offset by a 26% college readiness rate and 36% reading proficiency rate, a scathing rebuke, not celebration, is called for. When you refer to learners of color as the minority in order to minimize your willing inequity towards their academic needs when they are, in fact, the majority of learners in public K-12 education…

Douglass: At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour forth a stream, a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and the crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

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https://all4ed.org/state-data/national/