Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Flag and Willful Distortions of History

Editor, The Recorder,

I would like to respectfully answer the challenge Mrs. Gum issued in her letter to the editor that ran in the Sept. 13 issue.

In her letter, she laid out a few facts about Francis Scott Key, but she didn’t give readers enough historical background about him or the poem he wrote (which was later turned into the national anthem) to paint a complete picture.

I’m certain The Recorder won’t give me enough space to thoroughly discuss Francis Scott Key’s bigotry, protests against police brutality, and the fissures in America today, but I will try. To do this, I will enlist the help of another famous Francis Scott Key — Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

To fully understand protests in America, one has to be willing to hold two contradictory ideas in their head at the same time and get outside of themselves long enough to consider what America looks like through another’s eye.

Francis Scott Key was the son of a slave owner — he inherited wealth created by slave labor, he owned slaves, and he was enriched throughout his life by the institution of slavery. As a lawyer in Maryland and a District Attorney in Washington, D.C., he did everything in his legal authority to make life hell for Africans in America. He never prosecuted crimes committed against freed Blacks, and he fought several legal battles against abolitionists.

Key was in British custody because of a prisoner swap he was negotiating. The British feared he would turn over intelligence, so they kept him on a boat anchored several miles out to sea during the 20 to 24 hours of the attack on Fort “McHenry.”

Francis Scott Key and his poem are a part of American history. He is worthy of praise and blame for his actions. He was a horrible human being. In the third stanza of his poem he writes, “No refuge could save the hireling and slave, from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave, and the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave, o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

That line was a direct reference to the freed Blacks and slaves who chose to fight for the British Army. He hated them so much that he cheered their deaths.

Key once said Africans were “a distinct and inferior race of people, which all experience proves to be the greatest evil that afflicts a community.” All of this is part of the same story!

America is complex. We have a history most would rather run from than confront. I’ve been at military funerals where loved ones are presented with the flag; this is a cathartic experience. Love of country is a powerful motivator for many people. I understand and respect the sacrifices some have made. With that said, it would be disingenuous to not admit the promises made in the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and the national anthem don’t apply to all of us.

There will never be a “popular” protest movement. This doesn’t mean reasonable people can’t disagree about what is or isn’t appropriate. Dr. King has been dead long enough to become a beloved figure in America, but he died a hated man. Muhammad Ali was much more popular as an older man dealing with Parkinson’s disease than a young man standing up for the dignity of Black people in the 60's and 70's. This will also be the fate of Colin Kaepernick. His protest was never about the flag or our troops.

Willfully distorting the reason players are protesting solves nothing. Saying racism is better doesn’t deal with the ways it has evolved. Changing the conversation guarantees another generation will have to talk about these issues.

Malcolm X once said, “You can’t stab a man in the back nine inches, pull the knife out six inches, and celebrate the progress.”

There are inequities in employment and educational opportunities that need to be addressed. The criminal justice system is a nightmare. Too many Americans have been systematically excluded from the dream.

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