Understanding Patriotism in a Divided Land

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When Colin Kaepernick decided to “take a knee” in protest of the injustice meted out against African Americans and other people of color, in spite of the words of the Pledge of Allegiance that in this land, there is “liberty and justice for all,” he set off a manufactured cry of outrage from people who said he and others who knelt were being unpatriotic, that they were disrespecting the American flag.

With self-serving, over-the-top sanctimony, those who did not like what Kaepernick was doing offered deep pain that anyone would disrespect the flag and therefore, their country. With equal passion, they claimed loved for the flag and the country – though many of them also hail and respect the Confederate flag, a flag which is an “in-your-face” reminder that there are people living in this nation whose ancestors committed treason against the United States of America.

Those who wanted slavery were willing to go to the mat to protect their state’s right to own slaves and they were incensed that the federal government – i.e. “big government,” would dare step in and tell them what to do.

Confederate flag

Neither the North or the South wanted slaves to be free, nor did either side believe that blacks were equal to whites. Only when it was apparent that the North needed more men to fight in that ghastly and deadly war did Lincoln free the slaves.

Freeing the slaves and adding manpower to the Union ranks was helpful, clearly, but the fact of the matter is that those in the South didn’t care a hoot about the “United States of America.” No, southern states pulled out of the union and fought against “America.” The Confederacy had its own president, its own headquarters, and worked to have its own set of laws and rules.

Lincoln hovered over the “United” States of America to save the union; this country was one, not many, he said, and those who would destroy it must be stopped. He didn’t care about their flag, their president or their intended values.

When the Civil War was over and the North had won, there was foundationally no more “Confederacy.” The United States had won; this had been a war with two sides – with the United States fighting against its enemy – states that no longer wanted to be a part of the union. The southern states had committed treason by fighting against their own country, but that very sentence is scarcely ever uttered. Yes, there was and is a “southern” heritage, but at its core it is anti-American, anti-federal government, anti-“equality for all,” which is what the United States stands for.

That being the case, it is a little puzzling to hear rabid, self-avowed racists and white nationalists scream “patriotism” as those who have opted to stay in this country, work in this country and fight for this country exercise their First Amendment right to protest against their government. They are not fighting to get out of the Union; they are kneeling to make the union become a better place for all of its citizens. They are protesting because they love the words and the sentiment behind America’s founding documents. They are protesting because they believe in the America that the anthem’s first verse reflects  and which the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution describe.

They love the country enough and believe in it enough to risk criticism as they in fact criticize what they see as an egregious wrong.

They are not committing treason, as did the Confederate soldiers did and as white nationalists, who are railing against the foundational beliefs of this country are doing.

They believe in “liberty and justice for all.” They are hoping “taking a knee” will make people think.

They are being patriotic in a land which has been divided because of race from its birth.

A candid observation …

 

Our Slip is Showing

In the “old days,” women would wear slips under their dresses and/or skirts; to not do so was considered a violation of proper modesty. The slip could be whole or what was called a “half slip,” which was, as the name indicates, a garment that hung from the waist down.

Half slips were notorious for not being cooperative. You would get what you thought was your size, and the slip would be fine for a while, but sooner or later the elastic around the waist would wear, and the slip would not stay in place.

In variably, the slip would hang below the hem of the skirt or dress, and some other sympathetic woman would whisper, “Your slip is showing.”

I thought about that as I have been watching what has been going on in our government. Our foundation is one which was built on racism and sexism. Though we were purported to be a democracy, the Founding Fathers seemed to have disdain for the idea of too much power coming from the people. This government was always about elevating and keeping some in power, and about keeping other people down. According to Howard Zinn in A People’s History of the United States, four groups of people were not represented in the Constitutional Convention: slaves, indentured servants, women and men without property.” (p. 91) Even at the inception of this “great democracy” the value system was firmly in place: the rich were to run the country and to maintain their power and increase their wealth by exploiting the working poor. Writes Zinn: “the Declaration functioned to mobilize certain groups of Americans, ignoring others.” “The American people” was never the masses, but was really the small group of wealthy, white, male landowners…”We the people,” a phrase coined by Governor Gouverneur Morris did not mean Indians or blacks or women or white servants.”

Charles Beard, a 20th century historian, wrote in his book An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution  that “the rich must, in their own interest, either control the government directly or control the laws by which government operates.”

If we read and study this history of America, we might not get quite as agitated as some of us are in the present day as we watch what is going on in our government. We are abiding by traditional American political history. That history is not a stellar one; it is fraught with discrimination and bias, with government allowing for and even sanctioning those who do what they think best in order to keep the moneyed class in power, to keep the oligarchy intact.

And while it has not gotten as much attention as the escapades that have been going on in and around the White House, the sexism that was written into our Constitution is rearing its ugle head as well. The House constructed a health care bill that is sure to have devastating effects on many, including women. In their work to craft this bill, a picture appeared having only white men in the White House, deciding whether or not maternity care and mammograms should be considered to be “essential” health issues to be covered under the Republican bill. (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/03/trump-health-care-summit-white-guys)

As this administration barrels through proposals that will hurt so many people, it seems that her slip is showing – a slip which includes her racism, sexism, and paternalism at the least. With these people in power, poverty will increase, as will mass incarceration; voting rights are in danger of being seriously compromised, and anyone who challenges the policies stands the possibility of being sanctioned. These people in power are not unlike, it seems, the Founding Fathers, who envisioned a country run by a small group of wealthy white men who controlled everyone and everything.

The slip which is America’s undergarment has been soiled by the dust that comes from such injustice, but it is America’s legacy. Those in power do not worry or care about if the slip is showing, but, rather, only that it stay in place in order to maintain – or in this case, regain – the status quo.

It’s called “making America great again.”

A candid observation.

The Complexity of Hope

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As this country winds down from the Obama administration and readies itself for the incoming administration, nothing feels secure. Nobody quite knows what the new president will do or not do. His refusal to show his tax returns has maddened some to the point that they say they are not going to pay their taxes. His arrogance shows itself daily; his rants on Twitter seem so immature and, frankly, inappropriate for a head of state.

His antics, actions, and words, are, quite honestly, troubling and frightening. His refusal to severely admonish Russia for whatever role it had in hacking American cyberspace feels …like treason. His treatment of the press is an assault on one of the basic freedoms guaranteed to Americans; one wonders what the press will be able to do under his leadership – if they will be able to practice responsible journalism, though, to be honest, the press has for a while slipped from being a truth-seeking entity to being merely entertainment. Cable news programs are not really news; they are all-day talk shows.

This man who will be inaugurated president has insulted almost everyone who can be insulted – from women, to blacks, to immigrants to people with disabilities. Because of his rhetoric, little children feel free to hurl racist epithets at their classmates, and reports indicate that, since the campaign, hate crimes have been on the rise. (http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/hate-on-the-rise-after-trumps-election) Immigrants – legal and illegal – including children of immigrants who were born here are afraid of being deported. Muslims are afraid of being assaulted.

The cold war between Russia and the United States ended years ago, and the threat of a nuclear war felt like it was really a thing of the past, but now, not so much. The new president is buddying up with Russian president Vladimir Putin, whom he apparently likes because Putin likes him, but both the incoming president and Putin seem to be of the same ilk: arrogant men in pursuit of power at any cost. They are “getting along” now but one has to wonder how long the warm fuzzies between them will last. When one or both of them get angry at the other, when the quest for ultimate power by one or both of them takes precedence over civility, what will happen? Who will suffer? And it’s not like the two of them are the only hot-heads in power; Kim Jung-un of North Korea seems to be just as volatile as Putin and the president-elect, and China has already been riled by actions the president-elect took when he accepted a call from Taiwan, in violation of the One China policy which has been respected for decades.

This country does not feel as safe as it has felt before now, and it’s not just because of the threat of terrorism. It’s largely because the incoming president has ushered in a spirit of hatred and bigotry – or maybe he has just unearthed it from the underground – and he has done so arrogantly.

And yet…today comedian Steve Harvey, loved and respected by so many people, black and white – visited the president-elect in Trump Tower. He said after the meeting that he did so because “President Obama called me and told me I should meet” with the incoming president. Harvey said that the talk was good; that his host seemed “sincere” and that he seemed like a nice person. He repeated that President Obama “said we should talk.” Harvey talked not only to the president-elect but to members of the transition team and to Dr. Ben Carson, who will head up the Department of Housing and Urban Development. (HUD) Harvey said the incoming administration wants to address the problems of the inner cities, something about which Harvey and others have long been concerned about and worked to improve.

He also said that President Obama said that “we have to come from behind our computers”and work, so “I came from behind my microphone” because, he said, we have work to do.

For a moment I couldn’t believe that Steve Harvey was in Trump Tower. I hardly knew what to think.  But he kept on saying, “President Obama said I needed to talk with…” and Harvey did it. If the president can do something for the inner cities, then, said Harvey, he’s good with it. Political commentator Ana Navarro, who said again that she thinks the incoming president is a “despicable human being” said she respects the office of president. If he can get people jobs and do all that that he said he would do, then she will respect that.

It seems that Steve Harvey has decided to hope. To hope, says Rebecca Solnit in her book Hope in the Dark, ” is to gamble. It’s to bet on the future, on your desires, on the possibility that an open heart and uncertainty is better than gloom and safety. To hope is dangerous, and yet it is because the opposite of fear, for to live is to risk.” (p. 4)

Watching all that has been happening has been difficult and disconcerting; it has certainly widened the lake of uncertainty in which Americans are swimming. And yet, Steve Harvey reminded me of this thing called “hope,” daring to talk to someone whom you do not trust or like, for the sake of a transformation for the betterment of someone other than ourselves.

It may be that this time is a time in which we all…learn to hope and thus, learn to live in a new way.

A candid observation …

 

 

The Comfortable and the Disinherited

I struggle with wondering if the races, white and black, can be reconciled in America.

If, or since I believe in an all-good and all-powerful God, I have to believe that it is possible. And …since I believe in crazy faith, I have to believe again that it’s possible.

But the rift between “the comfortable” and the “disinherited” is a big one…and it has been there from the beginning of our history. “The comfortable” seem to think that the cries of “the disinherited” are a lot of noise. “The comfortable” will say that since there is a black man in the White House, then all is well. “The disinherited” ought to be quiet.

But the fact is that “the comfortable” really do not know or care about “the disinherited.” Though many people, black and white, are “pro-life,” “the comfortable” have no idea of what life is for “the disinherited.”  They don’t know about the horrible schools that the children of “the disinherited” have to attend, while they know that “the comfortable” have wonderful, well-equipped schools just minutes away. They don’t know, or don’t care, that even now, urban schools often have the worst teachers, the most outdated books, few if any computers, no air conditioning and/or inadequate heat. They don’t know about how the children of “the disinherited” often do not have coats and gloves and hats and boots in the winter …or if they do know, they don’t care. They do not know, and therefore cannot care, what these horrific schools must do to the psyches of the children of “the disinherited.” In one of Jonathan Kozol’s books, Savage Inequalities,” he writes about a public school in East St. Louis where sewage overflowed into the kitchen. “The school had to be shut down because sewage flowed into the basement, through the floor, then up into the kitchen and into the students’ bathrooms. The backup occurred in food preparation areas.” (p. 23)  Can you imagine what that smelled like? Can you imagine the horror the children of “the disinherited felt? Too many of “the comfortable” cannot. They blame the parents for the plight of the children and they turn their heads.

They don’t know about the concerted efforts today to dismantle the voting rights of “the disinherited,” trying to make it as impossible now for black people to vote as it was 50 years ago, or worse. They do not care that the legacy of law enforcement in this country is that far too often, law enforcement officers took part in lynching, and that the “justice system” was never just for black people. They do not know that for “the disinherited,” there was no such thing as a jury of one’s peers, because black people have been historically tried by all-white juries. They don’t know about the traveling electric chair that was used to execute people in the early 20th century, or about how when one young black man’s execution didn’t work, (there was something wrong with the chair), they put him back in jail and then took him back to that chair after the kinks were worked out. So much for not believing in “cruel and unusual punishment.” (Read The Execution of Willie Francis by Gilbert King)

They don’t know how America’s legacy of slavery and white supremacy has absolutely tarnished the quality of life for black people, even in this, the 21s century. “The comfortable” don’t know about being kept from getting a job until “every white person has a job.” (Read about it in Timothy Egan’s book, The Worst Hard Time). “The comfortable” don’t know about being afraid to look at white people or being accused of doing the same. They do not know about being afraid to change lanes today without using one’s signal (Sandra Bland) or to be stopped for a routine traffic stop (Sam Dubose) or being afraid to carry a toy weapon in an open carry state (John Crawford). They do not know what it is like to know that all an officer has to say is, “I was in fear for my life” to be deemed justified in using lethal force against another human being who…most often …is one of those dang “disinherited.”

The ways of life of “the comfortable” and “the disinherited” are so very different. Can the chasm be crossed, so that “the comfortable” see the plight of “the disinherited?” And, if they see, can anything be done to “tenderize their hearts” so that the lives of “the disinherited” are less traumatic?

One of my friends told me that the term “white supremacy” is insulting. To use it, he said, was insulting. There is no such thing …Another one of my friends said there is no such thing as evil. I said that lynching was evil, and she disagreed. I think she gave me her reason, but I did not hear. I could not hear…

With that kind of separation between these two races can there be racial reconciliation?

If I believe in a good God, and if I believe in crazy faith, then my answer has to be “yes.”

But I am struggling on this one. “The comfortable” will not willingly look and see “the disinherited,” not without something major and traumatic happening to them.

A candid observation …