Thoughts and Perspectives

“4th of July” vs “Independence Day” – Hidden Power of Words Series, #11

Do you refer to the United States’s birth by saying “Happy 4th of July!” or “Happy Independence Day!”? If you are like most, you have probably almost always thought of today as the 4th of July. As Bruce Martin points out in his blog article,On Independence Day, Fourth of July, Fireworks Day, Whatever We Call It,” there are many important rhetorical differences between the two, and our common choice speaks volumes to what we do and do not really value. 

Before going further, here is an image (click to enlarge) from GoogleBooks (nGrams tool) that gives a really good idea of how the two have been used in printed English over time: 

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 7.51.03 PM

Additionally a quick search on Google brings:
  65,700,000 results for “Independence Day”
351,000,000 for “4th of July”

4th of July conjures up images of BBQs, family get togethers, maybe a day off from work if you are lucky, fireworks, parades, powerful classical musical (though historically misappropriated), Christmas in July sales, and a kind of high-mark of the summer in general.

None of this is bad in and of itself. But this in no way actually celebrates or reflects on the ideals of how the United States was formed. Although Christmas, for example, is not without similar issues created in part by hyper-consumerism, there is still an emphasis among those who celebrate it in Churches to reflect on the founding of Christianity.

By not saying “Happy Independence Day” all the time, we consciously and unconsciously (further) avoid all of the on-going (and increasingly of late) contradictions between the United States’s long history and its ideals and its still current trajectory and ideals. For a nation so ready to scream,  “FREEDOM OF RELIGION” and “ALL ARE CREATED EQUAL” and to proclaim “THE AMERICAN DREAM AWAITS,” we sure do have a ridiculous time actually coming anywhere close to actually meaning this – we should be ashamed and embarrassed as a nation.

The other problem with today–although it is only natural and perhaps needed given the nature of humans–is the deliberate re-writing of our nation’s founding. This national mythology is very powerful today. Even President Obama is guilty of perpetuating this. Take a look at this address from today. (Email subscribers will probably need to visit this webpage.)

Our so-called Founding Fathers really did mean “all men are created equal.” Women–even by the language of their time–were deliberately left out and were not “included” in this male-centric diction. And if you would like to debate this point, I’d ask that you look at how women, Blacks, Indians, and others were treated. White cis-Men are the only group in the United States’s history that have not faced codified, institutionalized, perpetual discrimination. 

The nature of racism by the 1770s and 1780s was so assumed and so everyday that it was not necessary to say “all White men are created equal.” Just as I discovered in my research on the University of Houston during the Culture of Segregation: it was so assumed–part of the historical unconsciousness–that Black individuals were not going to be admitted, that there was no contradiction between this fact and UH’s fully open-admissions policy.

Additionally, these Founding Fathers also had in their grand and radical vision a society where this would only be extended to wealthy individuals. 

While things have absolutely changed and we have expanded on these grand and radical ideas in many ways–such that the so-called Founding Fathers are “rolling in their graves” to borrow the cliché–a simple look at history–history defined as everything from less than a micro-second ago–shows us how much things have not changed.

Perhaps if we sincerely reflected on the nation’s true origins (including that the so-called Founding Fathers created something much more like an oligarchy than a “democracy” or republic and had a deep-rooted fear of the common person) and true problems even 20% as much as we sincerely celebrate the (racist) institution of Football, every one would feel comfortable saying the Pledge of Allegiance, especially it’s promise with liberty and justice for all.”

Click here for my blog–Personal Histories and Reflections about the 4th of July–from Independence Day last year.

Also see, Birth in the United States, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Cluster of Signs, Symbols, and Sounds Called “English”

Additionally, you can find the full Hidden Power of Words Series here.

8 replies »

  1. How do you see “Independence Day” as enforcing or conjuring different imagery than “fourth of July”? If anything, “Independence Day” can further embed a sense of American exceptionalism (as though it is the only Independence Day, similar to saying ‘the Civil War’ instead of ‘the American Civil War’).

    Liked by 1 person

    • I guess I see the rhetoric and diction of “4th of July” as having no automatic and frequently no connection at all to what the holiday proclaims to be about. July 4th ends up being a day to have fun. If we regularly used “Independence Day” (or used it more often), it would require–even if only unconsciously–more reflection on the past. And true, very good point, that it might make the day even more about the myth of US exceptionalism. In general, across the board, the public needs to know more about the past (beyond their family and personal histories)! 🙂

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Like

  2. I definitely agree with you there! This series is a nice call to attention to the words we use and the way we use them, and I enjoy seeing what comes next. The words that always irk me are ones like ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty.’ People throw them around so much, the words have lost a great deal of meaning. This is not unlike the way the founders used these terms, though – demanding freedom while upholding slavery, or calling for liberty while denying women citizenship. These continue to be problematic terms, but the issues these words raise often go unnoticed.

    Thank you for the thought-provoking post!

    Like

    • Thanks so much. Sometimes I enjoy just looking up “easy,” “everyday” words and seeing what they REALLY mean and learning about their etymology. Would love to hear more of your thoughts about the problems with “liberty” and “freedom” – could probably through in “equality” and “justice” there, too! 🙂

      Like

  3. Great post Az a Nu-Afrikan living here in Amerika were the majority of it’z occupentz never truly studied history (his-story). There waz no independence 4 my ancestorz in 1776 so az far az i am concerned it iz nothing more than a day based upon liez and deceit. Just az there waz noequality and justice then ,there iz none now.People of colour are still being murdered and lynched on a daily basis. No more needs to be sad unless u are going to up 4 what iz right and Amerika and her policiez are far from right. Panther Love

    Liked by 2 people

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