RED, WHITE, and BLUE by Dr. Tawnya Pettiford-Wates
I’m Just Sayin’ Dr. T’s Column 07/06/2022
The birth of a nation is what comes to mind for many Americans when they hear the words red, white, and blue. Many celebrate by participating in a national holiday with fireworks, family barbeques in parks and backyards all over the country. This year the United States of America meets a milestone of 244 years since the Emancipation Proclamation, and 246 years since the institution of chattel slavery was recognized as being abolished all over the land, including the state of Texas. It took an additional 2 years after the Emancipation for the enslaved Black people of Texas to be unshackled from the institution of slavery by force when the Union Army rode into Galveston to proclaim them free. In 1619, the first enslaved Africans landed at Port Comfort, Virginia. For African descended people celebrating the birth of this nation is not what comes to mind when we bring up the red, white, and blue. The hypocrisy of a nation celebrating freedom and liberation while holding hundreds of thousands of African men, women, and children in the bondage of chattel slavery holds a level of depravity and evil that is a distortion of the meaning of “Independence Day.” Frederick Douglass delivered one of his most famous speeches, “To the Slave, What is the Fourth of July.” This speech was delivered in 1852 to a nation that legalized the institution of slavery since its inception.
Black people in America have always had to contort our perceptions and re-envision our lived experience in America, to cover ourselves in the “patriotism”, the “freedom”, the “liberty” of the red, white, and blue. We must actively and constantly “alter our perception of reality” to live as citizens in this country. How much more did our newly emancipated Ancestors have to deny, internalize, and suppress the knowledge that black bodies were enslaved, bought, sold, tortured, raped, and beaten with impunity for the first 244 years of this nation’s founding and development. So, freedom and liberty are not what come to mind when we think of the red, white, and blue. When we think about “Red”, we see the blood that has poured out of black bodies for centuries and generations from the terrorism of White Supremacy and the deprivation of white nationalism that historically maims, kills, and destroys black bodies and entire communities with hate filled rage that will never relent or acknowledge the humanity, dignity, and equality of Black people and the value of Black Lives. When we see “Red”, we see the massacres at Tulsa, Greenwood, Rosewood, Memphis, New Orleans, the Colfax Massacre, and too many others to name here. We see Selma, Montgomery, and Bloody Sunday. We see the Ebenezer Baptist Church and the slaughter of 5 little Black girls on a beautiful Sunday morning.
When we look to the “White” in the red, white, and blue, we recognize a system of whiteness and privilege that systemically and institutionally elevates white people at every intersection of American life. We see white robes with red crosses that initiated a reign of terror on Black communities, and black bodies for decades intending to intimidate and terrorize Black people into submission and denial of the freedom and liberty to participate in the democratic process or any pursuit of “Life, Liberty and Happiness” to which ALL citizens are entitled. When we look to the “Blue” we see a criminal justice system that is built on a foundation of the criminalization of the black body and to the slave patrols, legally empowered by the state to hunt down, kill, or capture black bodies. And to be clear, there was an equivalency ascribed to killing and/or capture because the reward was the same whether dead or alive. The “Blue” instantly reminds us of the epidemic killing of unarmed Black men and women hunted and killed by modern-day law enforcement officers. The “Blue” brings up the continual trauma inflicted on Black communities by an out-of-control police force that can execute Black people in broad daylight and received little to no consequence or accountability. We remember Rodney King in 1991- and three-decades later Jayland Walker in 2022. We remember the abuse of power and excessive use of force. We remember January 6, 2021, when the Red, the WHITE, and the Blue fully armed stormed and desecrated the US Capitol in an insurrectionist effort to overthrow the government and were not gunned down in a shower of bullets. When we consider the Red, White, and Blue, we do not find ourselves celebrating America as a nation of Freedom, Liberty, and Justice for ALL. We find ourselves enraged and outraged.