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“This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me.”

I have always loved this little patriotic song, even before I learned of its roots as a sarcastic rejoinder to its mawkish forebear “God Bless America.” But as this post’s title suggests, I’m liking it for a deeper reason this Independence Day.

A member of a nerd group I belong to wrote an article (“How to Celebrate Independence Day When You’re Feeling Less Than Patriotic”about the discomfort black Americans feel at celebrating July 4. Our history in this country has been one not of liberty and justice but, too often, fraught with constraint and unfairness. And despite the past 50 years of freedom in the nearly 400-year history of our time in the New World, there remain a lot of enduring effects of the bondage that characterized the bulk of that history.

I thought about it; how would I celebrate?

How SHOULD I?

My answer:

I don’t know how best to celebrate the Fourth of July other than rest in the knowledge that everything great about America is due to the efforts of we whose ancestors survived the Middle Passage.

  • The 13 colonies? Built on our backs. Even though the northern colonies rid themselves of the crutch of chattel slavery (to keep poor white workers from having to compete with unpaid slave labor), they still used the money made from it to build their industrialization and raked in more from earnings made by the South.
  • The first martyr in the revolution? A black man, Crisps Attucks, was leader of the group killed in the Boston Massacre.
  • The Civil War? A cynical power struggle and land grab for both sides until Africans in America ennobled it because it was literally a fight for our freedom.
  • Honest Abe Lincoln’s anti-slavery efforts were sparked and spurred by his correspondence with one Frederick Douglass, former slave and by then one of the world’s leading abolitionists.
  • The first Memorial Day for American soldiers was held by black people, not white Americans, who now revere the holiday.
  • The land of the free and home of the brave? All men are created equal? It was all wind until the civil rights movement stood up to America and said, “PROVE IT.” This, after two world wars fought abroad and a full century after our supposed emancipation.

 

The founding fathers had a good idea, but it, like most everything else folks crow about while praising this nation, would be nothing but empty hypocrisy built on a blood-soaked pile of theft, oppression and genocide but for us.

So I will celebrate the truth that, in all frankness, we whose ancestors survived the Middle Passage and all that followed have more right to call the United States of America our country than anyone. Its greatness is to our credit, not to our oppressors and their enablers.

This land is our land.

(A final note: Unless you are directly descended from indigenous peoples, don’t dare tell us to go ANYWHERE else. You don’t have the moral right.)

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Day 25-a song that cheers you up when you are feeling blue

From its first few whistled notes, this song can’t help but make me smile.

http://www.dailymotion.com/swf/video/x1xeko?width=320&theme=none
Shanice – I Love Your Smile by Hakunamatata67

“I Love Your Smile” by Shanice

However, this song also long represented — for me — something sick about race in America. Note that in the video, the singer is a medium-toned, unmistakably black woman. But in this album cover:

…she appears to be a shade lighter. Her hair is straighter. Even her nose seems smaller. Less African.

Whiter.

Looking back now, I’d like to say that this was more my own perception than reality. She really isn’t a full shade lighter on the album cover. This hairstyle is just more flattering than the one she’s rocking in the video. And her nose is just the same.

Sure, there was probably some early-version Photoshop airbrushing going on there, but that wasn’t new even then.

Unfortunately, my conspiracy theory gains credence in 1999.

Lighter still. Sigh.

I still love her “I Love Your Smile.” No matter how the marketing and image people try to airbrush away certain things.

Day 08-a song from your prom or your senior year of high school

Funny how this subject follows on the heels of the story of my non-first-kiss. It’s a wonder that I even got a date for my senior prom at all!

Interestingly, I wasn’t at all shy about asking girls to prom. It’s probably because I asked my best friend first, so I wasn’t intimidated about it.

  • But…she already had a date.
  • Then I asked the cute sister I sat next to in that class I can’t recall. Some elective of some sort. She was taken, too.
  • Then my favorite blonde. But she was going to another school’s prom that week.
  • Then I asked my crush from art club. I think she was so shocked that she didn’t think I was serious. (Plus there was the whole black guy/white girl thing that was still a little bitty bit taboo back then. *I* didn’t care, but other people *did*.)

That pretty well exhausted my candidates. I had determined to go stag — ’cause I was GOIN’, dagnabit! — when someone suggested a gal I hadn’t seen in years because she’d moved to another school.

Ever had one of those moments that’s part lightbulb, part facepalm? This was one of those. Of COURSE I should’ve asked her! Should’ve asked her first!

I called her up and she was only too glad to go.

Anyhow, at the actual prom there was a moment when I was walking to get drinks when this song came on:

For some reason I felt like the coolest dude in the world at that moment. (It wouldn’t last.)

 

The whole story is here, but the short of it is this:

In an effort to get her daughters into a better public school, Akron, Ohio mother Kelley Williams-Bolar claimed the girls lived at their father’s residence instead of the projects. Apparently, this is quite illegal in Akron, as the woman was jailed for 10 days, sentenced to 3 years of probation and, worst of all, could permanently lose her opportunity to realize her dreams of becoming a teacher herself due to this felony conviction.

I’m not really going to defend her actions or cry racism (yes, Ms. Williams-Bolar is black)…plenty of other people doing that for me. And while part of me wants to join in, the truth is that she still broke the law, and it’s not quite as light a matter as it looks at first glance.

This particular school system is set up so that it’s directly funded by the local tax base.  Consequently, the state’s position on the case is that Williams-Bolar effectively defrauded the system to get a better education for her kids.

I can see the state’s point. But I’m certainly not going to defend that point, either, because in this system the result is that poor districts are considerably less well-funded than wealthier ones. Added to the myriad of social issues faced by such schools, it’s hard to fault a parent for gaming the system.

There are a few lessons here to ponder:

  • Two “wrongs” still don’t make a “right.” Too often, people try to take ethical shortcuts to get what they want. Even if it’s a noble goal like getting your children better-educated, the ends don’t justify any amount of cheating to get it done. Just because “everyone does it” doesn’t make it right.
  • This goes double for black folks. Eventually, the system will reassert its authority. When an example is then made, it’s the poor and the minority who are likely to take the brunt of it. We need to walk in excellence and integrity so that we are beyond reproach.
  • School choice should be a given! Why should poor families be utterly locked by law into underperforming public schools? Why do teachers’ unions fight so tooth-and-nail against choice-based reforms? (And, even under the current system, why can’t a split-residence family like Williams-Bolar’s claim a preferred district? The taxes are still being paid by the students’ parents.)

The judge who sentenced Williams-Bolar is getting personally involved to try to ensure the mom won’t be barred from starting her teaching career, so maybe there’ll be an eventual happy ending to this bit of unjust justice.

The greatest American...?

This week, a few North Georgian school systems intended to make up one of last week’s snow days by holding classes on the national observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, sparking controversy. It’s emblematic of a cavalier, even resentful attitude toward this man who, in some minds, doesn’t rate the treatment.

They don’t understand that MLK Day is the most important national observance we have. Period.

It’s more important than Veterans’ Day.

It’s more important than Memorial Day.

It’s more important than even Independence Day.

No, I’m not backing off from this. I can defend it completely on any grounds you choose to argue from.

I can certainly hear the sputtering, outraged arguments against my statement, most of which boil down to this:

“Why, without the efforts of our veterans or the founding fathers, we wouldn’t have a NATION, much less a MLK Day!”

To that argument, I say a wholehearted “Amen.” Much blood was shed to establish this, the greatest country in the world, and to maintain its freedom.

But I add this cogent fact: Despite all that sacrifice and the great ideals of the founders that set America into motion, it was not until Dr. King that Americans truly became free and the ideals of this nation were actually begun to be realized.

To wit: America did not actually become the home of the free until sometime after the Bicentennial (1976). That’s about the time when not only were the last vestiges of Jim Crow finally swept away from American law, but people were finally allowed by society at large to interact with each other as equals…if they so chose.

More importantly, the first generation to have no memory of segregation were entering our formative years. And we indeed grew up to realize at least a large portion of Dr. King’s dream.

Most importantly, and the reason why I hold up MLK Day above all other patriotic holidays, is that it’s through his inspirational leadership that this change was effected without violence. I don’t think people realize how many lives were saved by his efforts.

You see, my parents’ generation was going to be the last generation to grow up under Jim Crow laws. Make no mistake: by the 1960s, even the most peace-loving of young black Americans were ready to die for their freedom. And I have to believe that our will and resolve in the resultant race war would’ve been far greater than that of the white majority.

Far greater. Blood would have run in the streets, and not nearly all of it ours.

I also have to believe that a protracted civil war against its own (second-class) citizens would have been absolutely disastrous for America and the world at large with the Cold War still in full swing. America would have lost that war and the entire world might be under Communist rule now and there simply wouldn’t be a free nation strong enough to protect its freedom.

So. The next time you think this is just a “black” holiday honoring one of “our” heroes, think again.

MLK saved America. Not only that, but he called her into her true greatness.

And I have to think that the founders are well pleased.

(Oh, and those N. GA schools? They closed on MLK Day anyway due to the persistent ice. I think God knows what He’s doing, too.)

As the final act of this seminal movie began, it had one more surprise in store: Lando Calrissian, the First Black Man in Space Opera, played by Billy Dee Williams.
Wouldn’t you know, though: the first black man we see in Star Wars is, initially, an ANGRY black man. How stereotypical is THAT?
LANDO (to Han Solo): “Why, you slimy, no-good, double-crossing swindler. You’ve got a lot of guts coming here…after what you pulled.”
Of course, Lando’s anger turns out to simply be ruse to play a joke on his old friend (and, as it happens, only the first ruse of many).

That cape's so stylish yet manly.

At nine-years-old, I remember having tremendously conflicted feelings about the first Star Wars character that looked like me. On the upside:
  • He was successful. No angry thug here; Lando was witty, smart and sophisticated. The wonderful thing about the casting of Williams for this part was that nothing about Lando says he needed to be black.
  • He wore a cape and wore it well. I hated when he lost the cape later.
  • He used to own the Millenium Falcon, the coolest spaceship in the galaxy, before he lost it “fair and square” to a white man. (Is there a subtext here?)
  • He was slick and resourceful. He came through in the clutch when it counted.
The downsides, though?
  • He was a womanizer. He was constantly trying to steal Han’s girl!

(So what if I wanted to do the same thing?) 😀

  • He was a betrayer. This, of course, was the big thing. He sold out his old friend to Darth Vader to save his own skin!

Hey. That's not Sidney Poitier!

After the powerful lessons in loyalty that Han Solo demonstrated earlier in the film (discussed in part 3), this event really earned Lando my hatred.
.
It was quite uncomfortable hating the first Star Wars character who actually looked like me. But this and subsequent scenes began to reveal a powerful life lesson embodied in the character of Lando Calrissian: People, things and circumstances are rarely what they seem on the surface. Look deeper.
Next: What I REALLY learned from watching the First Black Man in Space Opera. Hope you’ll join me for another trip down memory lane.