Filed Under:  OpEd, Opinion

O say can you see my right to be?

30th October 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Edmund W. Lewis

What does it say about American freedom, justice and democracy that people around the world seem to get it more than those who actually live in the U.S.?

That’s what I immediately thought when I heard about the German soccer team that recently took a knee to show their solidarity with NFL athletes in the U.S. who have refused to stand during the national anthem to protest racial injustice and bigotry.

Hertha Berlin players took a knee before its Bundesliga game at home in October..

The German soccer team’s starting lineup linked arms and took a knee on the pitch, while coaching staff, officials and substitutes took a knee off it.

“We wanted to make a stand against racism,” Hertha captain Per Skjelbred said after the side’s 2-0 defeat.

“We’re no longer living in the 18th century but in the 21st century. There are some people, however, who are not that far ideologically yet,” Hertha defender Sebastian Langkamp told Sky TV at halftime. “If we can give some lessons there with that, then that’s good.”

“Hertha BSC stands for tolerance and responsibility! For a tolerant Berlin and an open-minded world, now and forevermore!” the club said on Twitter.

Just weeks before the German soccer team’s gesture, a R&B singer took a knee as she finished singing the national anthem at a New Jersey Nets home basketball game.

Justine Skye, a Black female recording artist signed to Jay-Z’s label Roc Nation, was not the first artist to wear her social activism on her sleeve at an NBA game.

Last season, Sevyn Streeter performed the national anthem at a Philadelphia 76ers basketball game wearing a shirt that read “We Matter.” She was initially prevented from singing the national anthem because of the T-shirt but was invited back to perform the song after a backlash from players and other members of the 76ers organization.

I am reminded of a conversation the late James Baldwin had with Dr. Kenneth Clark during which he recalled an eye-opening conversation with a Black teen in the 1960s.

“I’ve got no country,” the 16-year-old boy told Baldwin in 1963. “I’ve got no flag.”

During a 1969 lecture in London, Baldwin succinctly summed up the kind of defiance we have witnessed in the courageous stands taken by African-American athletes and luminaries like Tommie Smith, Muhammad Ali, Paul Robeson, former NFL great Jim Brown, former NBA star Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (Chris Jackson) and Colin Kaepernick.

“What one does realize is that when you try to stand up and look the world in the face like you had a right to be here, without knowing that this is the result of it, you have attacked the entire power structure of the Western world,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin also shared his observations about the battles we wage and the need for any movement to be fueled by freedom fighters who have the courage of their convictions.

“Not everything that is faced can be changed,” he wrote. “But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

With regard to why White America has become so incensed at even the thought of Black athletes refusing to stand for the national anthem, Baldwin offered this gem: “The order of the white world is threatened whenever a Black man refuses to accept the white world’s definitions.”

In an essay that appeared in Ebony in 1965 titled “White Man’s Guilt,” Baldwin talks about why the very existence of Black people is a constant reminder to White America of past and current sins committed in the name of white supremacy and white privilege.

“The record is there for all to read,” Baldwin wrote. “It resounds all over the world. It might as well be written in the sky. One wishes that Americans — white Americans —would read, for their own sakes, this record and stop defending themselves against it. Only then will they be enabled to change their lives.

“The fact that they have not yet been able to do this — to face their history to change their lives — hideously menaces this country. Indeed, it menaces the entire world.

“This is the place in which it seems to me most white Americans find themselves,” Baldwin continues. “Impaled. They are dimly, or vividly, aware that the history they have fed themselves is mainly a lie, but they do not know how to release themselves from it, and they suffer enormously from the resulting personal incoherence. This incoherence is heard nowhere more plainly than in those stammering, terrified dialogues which white Americans sometimes entertain with the Black conscience, the Black man in America. The nature of this stammering can be reduced to a plea. ‘Do not blame me. I was not there. I did not do it. My history has nothing to do with Europe or the slave trade. Anyway it was your chiefs who sold you to me. I was not present in the middle passage. I am not responsible for the textile mills of Manchester, or the cotton fields of Mississippi. Besides, consider how the English, too, suffered in those mills and in those awful cities! I also despise the governors of southern states and the sheriffs of southern counties, and I also want your child to have a decent education and rise as high as capabilities will permit. I have nothing against you, nothing! What have you got against me? What do you want?’ But on the same day, in another gathering and in the most private chamber of his heart always, the white American remains proud of that history for which he does not wish to pay, and from which, materially, he has profited so much.”

The last thing America needs is to be governed by men and women who place no value on the lives, dignity and humanity of entire groups of people and appeal to the lowest common denominator in the masses that elect them to public office. If we have learned nothing else from the rise of the Tea Party and the first year in office for President Donald Trump, we should have learned this.

Baldwin wrote and spoke about this more than a half-century ago and it is as true today as it was when he first said it.

“It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can ever have,” Baldwin observed.

Perhaps better than any other writer, scholar or thought leader, James Baldwin makes it easy to understand why simply Being Black makes us Public Enemy No. 1 to the powers that be in America.

We, after all, are the proverbial skeletons in the closet, the descendants of the ones who refused to die. Irrefutable evidence that contradicts the American narrative, the idea that the creation and building of this nation was a social experiment that placed a premium on egalitarian principles and the idea that every human being was endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.

We are living, breathing witnesses to the many atrocities and injustices committed in the name of freedom, justice and equality by this nation’s “Fondling Fathers” and current elected officials and billionaires.

We are the walking, talking truth that cannot be hidden, ignored or explained away by FOX News or other mainstream media outlets committed to supporting white supremacy, white power and white privilege.

If nothing else, we should never forget what Baldwin said about a society that creates a class of people who feel they have no stake in it or no reason to support or defend it.

“The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose,” Baldwin said.

Truer words have never been spoken.

This article originally published in the October 30, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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