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Frederick Douglass' Descendants Deliver His Fourth Of July Speech
There has been strong attention this Fourth of July weekend to racism in the United States. A majority of my North American psychoanalytic colleagues are hopeful that the protests following upon George Floyd's death will ultimately have a positive, constructive effect on racial injustice.
A different segment of the American population joined Donald Trump the evening of July 3rd at a rally at Mount Rushmore, a national monument in South Dakota devoted to four past presidents (G.Washington, T.Jefferson, A.Lincoln, F.D.Roosevelt). There was a dense crowd, no enforcement of masks or physical distancing, fireworks (prohibited in most locations) and an Air Force display overhead. All this was paid for by U.S. citizens while those who were there were exposed to Covid-19 and to our populist leader. Sioux Native Americans protested the use of their sacred land for this purpose.
This Fourth of July holiday occurs in the context of sharpened awareness of continued, active racism. It is a sad time but one in which there is intense commitment to social change. A member of APsaA, Beverly Stoute, brought to the APsaA membership a video in which the great great great great grandchildren of Frederick Douglass offer a touching rendition of part of his speech from July 4, 1852.
Frederick Douglass escaped slavery in 1838 and lived as a freed man in Massachusetts. At the Rochester New York Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society he spoke on the occasion of the Fourth of July celebration, July 5, 1852. Most historians consider the following to be the most moving passage of his famous speech:
"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 denunciations 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. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour."
I believe this is a time in which psychoanalytic thinking can play an important educative and containing role. Our understanding of unconscious individual and group processes can help citizens understand the roots of violence, the appeal of autocratic leaders, and the need to interrupt the othering of our fellow human beings.
Dr. Harriet Wolfe