Understanding Patriotism in a Divided Land

American-flag-America

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 …

 

The Heritage of Hatred

Confederate flag

 

I have been watching and listening with interest to the conversation surrounding the Confederate flag. Whites (and some blacks) who want to keep the flag on the grounds of the State Capitol keep talking about the flag representing their heritage, and they say that heritage is about the bravery of the Confederate sons who died defending the Confederacy and what it stood for.

It stood for slavery and for hatred of black people.  The heritage which so many are trying to preserve was based on and infused throughout with, hatred.

The heritage of the Confederate South was based on its refusal to let go of the “right” to own black people. The heritage held that “negroes” were the property of white people, and could thus be treated in any way the master saw fit. The heritage included the need for the white supremacist South to hold onto and to increase its number of slaves so that the economy of the South could continue to flourish. The heritage and the subsequent fight was about the right to own slaves, and about preserving the inequality between white and black people.

The heritage which so many want to preserve and remember included lynching black people for nothing, for crimes of which they were accused but which they had not committed. The heritage was about raping black slave women while putting out the “word” that black men were raping their women. The heritage was about ripping black families apart, ignoring the screams and wails of mothers as their children were ripped from their arms; it was about splitting apart black husbands and wives.

The heritage was about making it illegal for blacks to learn to read and write; it was about allowing black children to go only so far in school, because their owners wanted them in the fields, making them money.  The heritage was about using all-white juries to convict black people of crimes, about keeping silent when a black person was accused of a crime that everyone knew had been committed  by a white person. The heritage was about white law enforcement officers either staying quiet about a lynching, or taking part in the lynching …or both.  The heritage was about a federal government which did little to protect African-Americans, about a United States Supreme Court which did more to squelch the rights of black people than to increase and protect them.

The heritage was about white people doing what they did to black people because they did not consider black people to be fully human. Indeed, Charles Carroll wrote a book which was a favorite back then, The Negro, a Beast.”  The heritage was about using the Bible to justify racist beliefs and practices; the heritage, in effect, used God’s name in vain.

This heritage had no compassion, no conscience, no desire for noble and, dare I say it, Christian behavior for or toward black people.  This heritage was marked by narcissism, seeking to protect the interests of a people called white, who elevated themselves to have dominion over any people they wanted.

This heritage allowed black people to be lynched, allowed white mobs to storm jails and drag blacks accused of crimes out, only to take justice into their own hands. This heritage had no mercy, no love, no human decency.

So, yes, that flag represents heritage …but that heritage is one of hatred and degradation of a people.

That, my dear friends, is what you are talking about when you talk about “heritage.” Your ancestors fought that war and died …to perpetuate inhuman treatment of one people by another.

Tell the story…hold onto your heritage, but do it in a museum. Remember your heritage in private and don’t make those whom your ancestors died to keep enslaved and degraded, have to look at and remember that heritage on a daily basis.

It is only right that the flag come down. Heritage defined, and that heritage notwithstanding.

A candid observation …