July 4th is a celebration of white supremacist settler colonial and here’s what we mean by that.
By Tariq Khan
1. The Declaration of Independence is a document based on settler colonialism and genocide
If we read the Declaration of Independence in high school or college we know it to be a list of grievances by elite British-American landowners against King George of Great Britain. A key one of these grievances is that the King hindered white settlers taking over the lands of Native nations to the west of the then British colonies (“He has endeavored to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands”). The Declaration makes no secret about this when it refers to the Native peoples of North America as “the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions” — which is some truly twisted double speak given the reality is that it was the white settlers who were merciless in carrying out campaigns of extermination against Natives!
The first law wrote by the Continental Congress after winning the War for Independence against the British King, before even writing what would become the US Constitution, was the Northwest Ordinance. This law opened to settlement what was called “Ohio Country” – Native territory that was previously off limits to settlement by order of the British King with the Proclamation of 1763. As President Thomas Jefferson said in 1801, his stated his vision was for “when our rapid multiplication will expand itself beyond those limits and cover the whole northern, if not southern continent, with a people speaking the same language, governed in similar form by similar laws.”
2. U.S. independence meant freedom for white landowning elite men and was wholly dependent on slavery
The newly independent United States was largely made up of slave labor camps (often less accurately referred to as plantations) where Black people were forced to labor for the profit of rich whites. Most of the well known founding heroes of the United States were owners and operators of large and profitable slave labor camps themselves – from author of the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson to “Father of the Nation” George Washington as well as principal author of the US Constitution, James Madison. These slave labor camps were sites of systemic torture, rape, and humiliation of black people. Not just the South, but the entire U.S. economy developed and depended on this system.
3. Patriotism is a weapon of social control
Historically, the rich class of parasites who own this nation have used patriotism to undermine working-class consciousness and convince whites that they share a common interests with wealthy elites. For example, during World War I, the patriotic white leaders of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) supported U.S. militarism by agreeing to ban strikes during wartime and push the anarchists and socialists (who were the backbone of a strong labor movement) out of the unions. Working class children are made to recite the pledge of allegiance every day in school. Military recruiters target young people in economically marginalized communities for military service. US militarism runs on the labor and sacrifice of the class of people who do not benefit from the murderous US imperialist project. Indian novelist Arundhati Roy recognized the danger of patriotic social conditioning when she wrote, “Flags are bits of colored cloth that governments use first to shrink-wrap people’s minds and then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the dead.”
The owners of this nation know that patriotism was a useful way to make the working class internalize the values of the ruling class. This is precisely why it has become customary for amateur and professional sports events to begin with the patriotic ritual of standing for the national anthem. The Star Spangled Banner, written by a slave owner and white supremacist, is an explicitly anti-Black song which celebrates the US military killing Black people who escaped slavery and fought for their freedom against the United States:
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave.
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.“The Star-Spangled Banner“
Yet millions of working-class U.S. Americans at ball games every year stand reverently, some with hands over hearts, while this murderous music plays. Black quarterback Colin Kaepernick was unofficially banned from the NFL for, in protest of police violence, refusing to stand for this vile anti-black song. The U.S. state department pays the NFL and other professional sports associations millions of dollars a year to promote patriotism and militarism.
Overthrowing the unjust social conditions of white supremacy, capitalism, imperialism, and the state requires building transnational, multi-ethnic, and multi-racial radical movements. The chauvinistic meanness and small-mindedness that patriotism generates undermines the kinds of global revolutionary connections oppressed groups need to make. As internationalists, anarchists do not call for people just to be passively unpatriotic, but rather actively anti-patriotic. Settler colonization, white supremacy, patriarchy and slavery are nothing to celebrate. The blood-stained 4th of July is not for us. The task in front of us is to organize a revolution truly worth celebrating: One that liberates us all!
Further readings on patriotism and the founding of the US colonial state
“An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States” by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz.
“The objective of US colonialist authorities was to terminate their existence as peoples—not as random individuals. This is the very definition of modern genocide as contrasted with premodern instances of extreme violence that did not have the goal of extinction. The United States as a socioeconomic and political entity is a result of this centuries-long and ongoing colonial process. Modern Indigenous nations and communities are societies formed by their resistance to colonialism, through which they have carried their practices and histories. It is breathtaking, but no miracle, that they have survived as peoples.”
“What to the Slave is the 4th of July?” by Frederick Douglass.
“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 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 which would disgrace a nation of savages.”
“Patriotism: a Menace to Liberty” by Emma Goldman.
“Thinking men and women the world over are beginning to realize that patriotism is too narrow and limited a conception to meet the necessities of our time. The centralization of power has brought into being an international feeling of solidarity among the oppressed nations of the world; a solidarity which represents a greater harmony of interests between the workingman of America and his brothers abroad than between the American miner and his exploiting compatriot; a solidarity which fears not foreign invasion, because it is bringing all the workers to the point when they will say to their masters, “Go and do your own killing. We have done it long enough for you.”
Tariq Khan is a PhD student of history, father, Air Force veteran and member of Black Rose/Rosa Negra in Central Illinois.
If you enjoyed this piece and are interested in learning more on anarchism and libertarian socialism we recommend the following: “Who Are the Anarchists and What Do They Want?” and “Why I Am An Anarchist” by Lorenzo Ervin Komboa.