Friday, July 04, 2014

A Note To Flag Wavers On The 4th Of July

In case you haven't noticed, I'm not your typical "patriot." I don't believe this country has been Numero Uno in any particularly positive way for a long time, if ever. I know what the reality of our unvarnished history as a nation has been and it hasn't been pretty.

On the other hand, I don't want to live anywhere else at this point in time. I like my creature comforts. I just don't think they're more important than life -- my own or anybody else's. I'm happy to pay my taxes. I do wish the government would spend my share on things that meet the needs of the population and address issues of human sustainability instead of trying to bully other nations (because it never ultimately works) or funding local SWAT teams to kick people's doors down unnecessarily.

So I'm pretty low key on July 4th. I don't even own a flag. And I despair of folks who fly them after dark, in the rain, and when they're tattered (all of which are blatant breaches of flag etiquette). I'm grateful I'm a U.S. citizen, but maybe being born into a dysfunctional family teaches you early on how to love an institution you really can't celebrate. And, anyway, I'm clear as a bell that the government is not the nation.

But many U.S. citizens (a goodly portion of which will be in the streets in one way or the other today) don't feel the same way I do. They'll be wearing red, white and blue. They'll be flying plastic flags from their car antennas. And they'll be singing "God Bless America" and "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the top of their lungs (no matter how far off key). This post is for them.

This blog -- which I've been writing for nearly a decade -- often refers to how difficult life is for People of Color and most particularly, Black people in the United States. And while they get little to no credit for making this country rich in the first place by working for free for four hundred years (my people certainly made no such sacrifice), everybody secretly knows Blacks are still getting the short end of the stick by being underpaid, underemployed, over-criminalized, over-incarcerated, and discriminated against in every area of social and economic life right up to the present.

So, if you're one of the people that's going to be feeling warm and fuzzy today toward your country and those who in our history established, built, and fought to create and represent the United States since its inception, I'd like to mention a few things we should all consider.

First of all, Crispus Attucks -- a Black man -- is thought to be the first person shot to death by British soldiers for taking a stand as a colonial revolutionary. In fact, it's estimated that at least five thousand Africans fought with the colonists against the British in spite of the fact that most of them were still seen as slaves by their fellow soldiers at the time. It's possible that many more would have stepped up, if their slaveholders had promised them freedom in the nation they were trying to establish. After all, when the Governor of the colony of Virginia offered African slaves their freedom if they would join the British in fighting off the rebels, tens of thousands of Africans put on the British uniform. But the White revolutionary colonists didn't want a democracy for everybody. They wanted others to produce the wealth and property-holding White men to enjoy it.

1st Rhode Island Regiment, U.S. Revolution

Nevertheless, by the War of 1812, approximately a quarter of the Naval personnel at the Battle of Lake Erie were Black. And it's hardly a secret that nearly 200,000 Black soldiers fought in the Civil War to free themselves and their families from the peculiar institution of slavery in perpetuity. Then, for the remainder of the 1800's, entire regiments of African-American Buffalo soldiers were organized and used to brutalize Native Americans, Mexicans, and Cubans in the name of the U.S. nation and its militaristic government.

Battle of Ft. Wagner, Civil War

In World War I, despite the practice of racial segregation of the troops and the reduced respect Blacks were forced to accept, 350,000 African-American men signed up to serve their country. Most of them were used in the U.S. as laborers or stevedores, but the 369th Infantry Regiment (nicknamed the Harlem Hellfighters) have gone down in history as being at the front longer than any other unit in the war -- six months -- during which they earned 171 Legion of Merit medals.

World War I

Though still racially segregated in World War II, 125,000 Black soldiers went overseas and distinguished themselves as U.S. troops. The Tuskeegee Airmen and the 452nd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion were a couple of the best known Black fighting units. And in December of 1944, General Eisenhower realized that we were unlikely to win the Battle of the Bulge unless he issued an order allowing Blacks to pick up weapons and fight along side Whites. When the order went out, 4,500 came forward with more than two thousand Black soldiers immediately volunteering to go to the front where hundreds of them were killed in action. The all-Black 333rd Field Artillery Battalion -- with 222 enlisted men and six officers dead or captured -- had more casualties than any other unit in one of the most famous battles of all time.

World War II

275,000 Black soldiers went to Vietnam, where 7,241 of them were killed and during at least part of the war, Blacks made up as much as 25% of the combat units. Thirty percent of the 500,000 soldiers deployed to the war in the Persian Gulf in the 1990's were Black. And currently, thirty percent of active duty soldiers (in all the armed forces combined) are minorities, which means there are approximately 425,00 soldiers of color out there representing the red/white/and blue wearers in the streets of America today.

If that's meaningful to you, maybe you want to walk up to a Black person and say thanks.

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