HANNAH L. DRAKE
When I was younger, I was taught to believe that the American flag stood for honor and justice. That the United States was the land of the free and home of the brave. A nation where the Statue of Liberty reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” America was the great melting pot, where anyone could rise with just a little hard work and opportunity. This was the American dream that I was sold, and in my naivety, I bought it. It was a dream that I wanted to believe, that all men are created equal, that I had a fair chance in this world to live freely.
However, what was once a dream has turned into a nightmare as I watch the fabric of America unfold at the seams I see what America has tried to hide-an ugly past stitched together from the pain, degradation, heartache, and murder of other humans. The dream was all an illusion. It was never a dream designed with me in mind. And now as many cloak themselves in red, white and blue and wave the American flag chanting for us to make America great again, I wonder when was America ever great for people that look like me? As I drive through my neighborhood and see the flags perched on the porches of my neighbors, I wonder what the flag means to them? We now live in a state of hyper-patriotism, where standing up for your rights and justice can be seen as un-American. I wonder if this wave of patriotism is merely a guise to hide their racism?
In 1965 when James Baldwin stood at Cambridge University to debate William F. Buckley, he said, “In the case of the American Negro, from the moment you are born every stick and stone, every face, is white. Since you have not yet seen a mirror, you suppose you are, too. It comes as a great shock around the age of 5, 6, or 7 to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance, along with everybody else, has not pledged allegiance to you. It comes as a great shock to see Gary Cooper killing off the Indians, and although you are rooting for Gary Cooper, that the Indians are you. It comes as a great shock to discover that the country which is your birthplace and to which your life and identity has not, in its whole system of reality, evolved any place for you. The disaffection and the gap between people, only on the basis of their skins, begins there and accelerates throughout your whole lifetime. You realize that you are 30 and you are having a terrible time. You have been through a certain kind of mill and the most serious effect is again not the catalogue of disaster—the policeman, the taxi driver, the waiters, the landlady, the banks, the insurance companies, the millions of details 24 hours of every day which spell out to you that you are a worthless human being. It is not that. By that time you have begun to see it happening in your daughter, your son or your niece or your nephew. You are 30 by now, and nothing you have done has helped you escape the trap. But what is worse is that nothing you have done, and as far as you can tell nothing you can do, will save your son or your daughter from having the same disaster and from coming to the same end.”
Baldwin spoke these words over fifty years ago, and even now, I have come to realize that a flag that I once pledged allegiance to has not pledged allegiance to me. The issues that Baldwin addressed are still issues that resonate with Black America today. This place that is my birthplace has not evolved any place for me. As a Black woman, I have been tasked with understanding every race and learning to navigate spaces that are not designed for me yet no one has taken the time to learn about me. Yet I must wear the mask. I must do the dance. I must teach my daughter how to do the dance and how to navigate White spaces. Because as a Black woman we have always stood on the front lines and the sidelines.
We have endured humiliation and embarrassment. We have stood naked on auction blocks and watched the world pick our bodies apart and put them on display. We were shamed for our appearance. We were humiliated for our skin color, lips, and hip size. We were subjected to playing wet nurse to your babies when we couldn’t even be there for our own. We were the conductor on the railroad to freedom. We fried the chicken, made the cornbread and packed the lunches for marches so our people could have nourishment. We ironed the shirts and pressed the pants, kept a clean home and cooked dinner in between fighting off the KKK. We watched our husbands and sons sway in trees. We made the signs and provided slogans that would change the world. We sat at the counters all while they spit in our faces and poured milkshakes over our heads. We endured the bites of dogs and hits from billy clubs. We assisted this nation in exploring the universe. We started movements that shook a nation. We stood backstage as the world demanded a man be center stage garnering credit for a movement. We buried our sons and our daughters too soon. We endured medical malpractice as the medical community used our bodies for Frankenstein research. We became the face of a movement fueled by our children’s blood. We were pioneers for freedom. We stood up to the system. We labored. We organized. We prayed. We fought. We resisted.
And here we are. As if none of that counts towards anything.
America keeps moving the goal line.
We have upheld our end of the bargain to America.
We have done everything that this country has demanded of us even at the expense of ourselves, our families, and our children.
What more do you want from us, America?
How much more do we owe, America?
I ask you America, are we considered part of, “We The People?”
A Concerned Citizen