By Beverly Gadson-Birch
A picnic is defined as an “outing or occasion that includes taking a packed meal to be eaten outdoors”. Another definition of picnic came out of lynching blacks, “picking a “nigger” to lynch in front of a crowd of whites. Snopes rates the definition as “false”. In fact, Snopes claims “picnic” is not an American word at all. It is a 17th century French word. Some blacks still view “picnic” as offensive and often refer to meals outdoors as a “cook-out”. Whatever the meaning or derivative, the celebration by African Americans is still misdirected. Frederick Douglass adeptly defines the Fourth of July in his “Independence Day Speech” at Rochester, NY in 1852. the impact of the celebration on African American. Sometimes, we celebrate just to celebrate and do not understand the true meaning of the celebration.
As we prepare for the Fourth of July celebration, family and friends will travel from far-away places for reunions and cook outs. The Fourth of July is synonymous with independence. Are we yet free? What are we celebrating—the birth of a nation or the destruction of our nation? Celebrations are reserved for things that are joyous.
Before we begin celebrating this Fourth of July, let us look at a country that rewards improprieties by CEOs with huge severance bonuses instead of big jail sentences. How could America be the beautiful when her hands are stained with the blood of slaves, unconscionable rape of women and children, incarceration of the innocent, stolen elections, unequivocal racism, and unequal opportunities? How could America be the beautiful when she allows the Confederate Flag to fly alongside the American Flag? How could America be the beautiful when she fills her belly with caviar while millions of her children go to sleep hungry? What kind of mother country is America when she refuses to provide affordable health care for her seniors who served her well during adolescence only to find themselves forgotten? What kind of mother would do such a thing?
As you make your way around town to the cook-outs with your fork in one hand and aluminum foil in the other, think of what freedom really means to you. Freedom is when you wake up in the morning and you have food on your table. Freedom is when you apply for a job and get it based upon qualifications and not color. Freedom is when you can drive your Lexus or BMW without being pulled over based on race. Freedom is when cops recognize that not all black folk look suspicious and are up to no good. Freedom is when banks have the same standards for granting loans. Freedom is when you can walk into a store to shop and the clerk that’s following you offers her/ his assistance and not because he/she suspects you of shoplifting. Freedom is having access to equal educational opportunities.
Frederick Douglas, one of the greatest orators that ever lived wrote, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” delivered an eloquent speech to the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society at Rochester Hall, in Rochester NY. It is one of the greatest speeches that I have had the opportunity to read, particularly from the 1800s.
When we think of the word “picnic” we immediately think of outdoors and food, but it is more to the Fourth of July than that. It’s a time to reflect! While you are enjoying family, do not lose focus of “freedom”. Homelessness is not freedom. Joblessness is not freedom. Poverty is not freedom. No health care is not freedom. Being denied a mortgage loan because you don’t meet the banks cut and dry requirements is not freedom.
Former President Barak Obama made great strides in moving America forward. We have a Republican President hell bent on “making this country great again”. What does that mean to you? Think about it! Do you think “making America great again means selling America out to the highest bidder and threatening our safety and solvency? Do you think “making America great again” is undoing everything the former President has done? Do you think “making America great again” is denying millions of Americans affordable health care and charging seniors “unaffordable” premiums?
A “picnic is not always a “picnic” when you wake up every morning with a monkey riding your back. Think on these things!