Your Turn

Read & Respond: 'Confessions Of A Reluctant Flag-Waver'

American Flag
iStockphoto.com

Though he hasn't yet been in office for a full month, President Barack Obama's presence in the White House has sparked a wholesale reevaluation of long-held beliefs and assumptions about race in America.

It extends beyond, for instance, rehashed debates about the continuing relevance of Black History Month to something deeper, which frequent News & Notes guest and Spelman College associate professor William Jelani Cobb considers in a post titled, "Confessions of a Reluctant Flag-Waver."

He writes: "These are strange days. Last August, I was caught on camera waving an American flag at the Democratic National Convention. This from the man who, as a student activist at Howard University, was caught on camera lowering the flag and raising a red, black and green one in its place." The following is an excerpt:

(L)ike all else concerning black people in this country, the interconnectedness of black history and American history has become more complex with age. Since Nov. 4, 2008, it has seemed little more than an indecipherable riddle of identity. There are those who saw the election returns and divined from them a declarative statement, a reply to Frederick Douglass' enduring question, "What to the slave is the 4th of July?" Or maybe a libation poured for those souls who died clearing the route to this moment.

These are strange days. Last August, I was caught on camera waving an American flag at the Democratic National Convention. This from the man who, as a student activist at Howard University, was caught on camera lowering the flag and raising a red, black and green one in its place. The same man who scowled when a military chaplain handed my mother an American flag at my father's funeral. During the uproar over the Confederate flags flying in Georgia, I frequently pointed out that black people suffered for far longer under the stars and stripes than we ever did under the stars and bars. And there are still no simple answers.

There are still voices that see Obama's election as the ultimate gesture of cynicism, the moment at which a black face was put to the service of this nation's global schemes and third-world adventurism. As the 44th president, Obama has necessarily fallen in with a checkered crowd: Washington, who laid out precise numbers of slaves to keep a perfect gender ratio of the Negroes he owned; Jefferson, who crossed out the lines in the Declaration of Independence that condemned the slave trade, copy editing black freedom out of existence. Jackson, who strangled abolitionist efforts and bought a black girl at an auction for his own entertainment; Lyndon B. Johnson, who signed civil rights laws but never relinquished his profane noun of choice for black people. Even Barack's boy, Abraham Lincoln, was arm-twisted into glory and penned the Emancipation Proclamation as he struggled to exile freed blacks outside America's borders. It's this kind of thing that will make your head grow weary of pondering.

On the day after the election, one of my students announced to me that the question was no longer "What to the slave is the 4th of July" but "What to the African American is the 4th of November." I didn't have an answer for her then — and I still don't. But when I figure that one out, I can holler back about the meaning of Presidents Day.

Read the full post via TheRoot.com, and share your thoughts.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

About