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Conversations About “Holidays” That I am Tired of Having

Thursday, July 5, 2012

During my time in Chicago, I am beginning to realize how the Midwest portion of the country (the United States, not the nations that rightfully belong to indigenous people and their descendants) has historically has been a space that has been mostly occupied by people of European descent. My friend who grew up in Wisconsin jokingly told me that the stereotype of the “average Joe” actually emerged from the midwest portion of the United States. During my time here, I have had very awkward conversations with folks about my heritage, my upbringing south of the Mason-Dixon line, and how I, as a Person of Color should assimilate, adapt, and exist in this country. Many of these conversations were focused on how “grateful” I should be to live here and how wonderful our nation is. Our nation? Wonderful?    

One day at my internship, a project manager handed me a list of holidays to create color schemes for a special lighting project that was being built downtown. The list had the following holidays/celebrations: Valentine’s Day, Saint Patrick’s Day, Memorial Day, “Independence” Day, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Halloween, Thanksgiving, “Holidays,” and New Years. She then said,” For the holidays one, make sure to use colors for different holidays. You know like Hanukkah.” I nodded, took the list, and began a search for appropriate colors. It struck me that Chicago, a city that has a Black population that is nearly 40%, that there was no acknowledgment of that presence in a visible way, other than the Black people who clean the streets to keep up the illusion of beauty and equity in the city.

A large amount of Chicago’s revenue and beautiful buildings that it is so praised for were built by the hands of hard working Black folks who migrated from the Southern United States and built up great industries and labor movements that helped fuel the economic and the middle class privilege of the United States. Jazz music, which comes from African traditional beats, put Chicago on the map in the music industry and created an explosion of artistic revenue and cultural enclaves that inspired art and community for years to come. Why should one ever have to mention that and see a shocked face in response? Every year of my life, I had to sing songs about, pretend to celebrate the existence of, and color in countless outlines of our “Founding Fathers.” Many of our glorious “fathers” actively owned and raped other human beings who looked like me. But of course, that’s not something I ever was suppose to know/ even be a smidge annoyed about.

On one hand, I was relieved to see Columbus Day wasn’t on the list. If it were, I would have had to quit my internship and life in general. However, in 2012, is it so hard to have a holiday other Martin Luther King Jr. Day to acknowledge my ancestors’ existence? Would it be physically painful to celebrate something inclusive like Cesar Chavez day, particularly because Latinos are now the largest group of Color in this country? Can we see images of Asian people residing in this country other than those ignorant phoney accents and racist ads like Ashton Kutcher’s Pop Chips Ad that we are told was “supporse to be funny” Can Urban Outfitters stop making indigenous prints, some which are sacred, into a market and then fund organizations that are basically working towards goals not too far from the mission of the Ku Klux Klan? It’s time for people who live in this country, particularly white folks, to take the time to learn about People of Color through listening to our expereinces instead of just asking for assimilation. 

“Independence” Day has just passed and I am tired of having to respond to the question about my holiday plans. A holiday would denote some sort of joyous occasion, but history shows that during July 4, slavery was alive and well. In fact, slavery is still thriving in this country. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) comes knocking on people’s doors, asking for papers as if the United States had a clean slate and not recognizing the actions that the United States makes that force droves of people to find their way to this country in desperate hopes of survival. Blacks only make up about 12% of the United States population, but we are 40% of the imprisoned population. The amount of police brutality, economic seclusion, subjugation, and ahistorical treatment of People of Color that the average person must endure is sickening. Yet, am I supposed to ignore that for the sake of a barbeque?

This being said, what am I celebrating for? Independence Day does not apply to me. No amount of fireworks, drink specials, or flags turned into tacky and decorative clothing could undo that reality. The day that people recognize that “American” history has not fared populations the same is the day that perhaps we can recognize that no matter who wins the 2012 elections, we have a systematic shift that must take place in order to have a real attempt at democracy . Let’s stop being so desperate and pressed for a day off that we continue to move closer to own demise.