Originally posted by Nadir at LastChocolateCity.com

The following post is from www.playahata.com. It offers a searing commentary on the irony and dichotomy of what it means to be a “Black American”.

Patriotism: Red, White, Black & Blue
by Morpheus

“What to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? … To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, and unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass- fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings; with all your religious parades and solemnity, are to him, mere bombasts, deceptions, and pious and hypocrisy–a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.” – Frederick Douglass

Such were the words uttered by Frederick Douglas on the eve of the Civil War. They were the sentiments of a Black man, escaped from slavery, who dedicated his life to championing the cause of his fellow race yet held in bondage. They are a stinging critique and seeming rebuke of America, denouncing it for its contradictions and falsehoods. Douglas words were militant. They were fiery. They speak with righteous indignation.

And yet, Douglas was a patriot. He openly denounced ideas, led mostly by whites, to colonize freed slaves in foreign lands. Douglas backed Abraham Lincoln in his bid for presidency, openly involving himself in the American political system. Douglas heartily welcomed and backed the Civil War, which to him represented a battle against slavery. He would strongly lobby and fight for Black troops to be allowed into the Union ranks, to carry the red, white and blue. In newspapers he called “men of color to arms”, urging Blacks to “end in a day the bondage of centuries:” to fight for their equality, show their patriotism and take on the Union cause. His sons Lewis and Charles were among the first to enlist, and they would be sacrificed for the cause of freedom.

(a.) Odd contradiction? (b.) A seeming dichotomy? (c.) Patriotic yet cynical? Yes to all of the above. To be red, white, blue, & Black. It has been a recurring theme since the founding of the United States.

Revolutionary Patriots

It began in 1733 with the Molasses Act. Passed by England upon its American colonies, the law imposed high taxes on imported Spanish and French molasses and sugar. The colonists needed molasses from England’s competitors, chiefly for making rum to be used in exchange for slaves on the West African coast. The colonies were heavily dependent on the Caribbean islands’ slave-based sugar plantations for sustenance and economic prosperity. These industries were themselves dependent on the colonies to supply the ammunition and staples needed to feed themselves and to control the slave labor used to work the sugar plantations. The effects of the Molasses Act were felt from chief slave-ports like Providence and Medford to as far away as Charleston.

The colonies grew prosperous by using rum as a barter for slaves, ivory, gold and other products and were now a rival with England, who also depended on the trade of Black bodies. Malachi Postlethway, an 18th century mercantilist theoretician, stated: “The African trade is the first principle and foundation of all the rest. The African trade is so very beneficial to Great Britain, so essentially necessary to the very being of her colonies, that without it neither could we flourish nor they long subsist …”

Envious of the prosperity its colonies reaped (directly or indirectly) from the slave trade, England prohibited settlements west of the Appalachians and passed the Stamp Act. Whereas the Molasses and Sugar Acts directly involved the slave merchants and their commercial interests, the general colonial population of about 2 million had little or no concern for it. However, measures such as the Stamp Act of 1765 affected nearly everyone. Through skillful manipulation, slave traders, plantation owners and other slave-based interests used these laws to create discontent among the general populace.

These slave-mongers and/or ministers of propaganda were men like John Adams, who himself stated, “Molasses was an essential ingredient in American independence”; Thomas Jefferson, who believed Black men were “void of mental endowment” and once stated “… that the orangutan preferred Black women to those of his own species,” (an odd statement coming from a man who had children by his adolescent female slave); George Washington, who once traded his slave for a barrel of rum; or his good friend the Marquis de Lafayette, who, when not supplying mercenaries with funds and weapons, smuggled human cargo and “bred” Black slave women for his New Orleans brothel.

This all culminated in the SECOND shot heard around the world and the start of the American Revolution. The FIRST shot lay buried in the chest of a runaway slave named Crispus Attucks. What could better typify the glaring contradiction of Black American life, than a runaway slave becoming the first martyr of a nation that declared it was fighting for “freedom?” Perhaps it could be said that when it comes to Black America, and its dichotomous existence, Crispus Attucks is a “founding father”.

There were many Blacks that fought for the 13 colonies, proudly waving the new flag. When the Revolutionary war erupted numerous Blacks joined the ranks of the Continental Army. Free Blacks like Cuff Smith and Cesar Prince enlisted to fight the British. The founder of African American freemasonry Prince Hall is listed in military records of the Revolution. And it is said he fought at Bunker Hill. Pictures also show free Black infantrymen in the first Rhode Island Regiment or speak of them among various troops. And yet even many of these Blacks were not blind to the seeming contradiction they lived. A great deal of free Blacks enlisted in the Continental army hoping their service would help the newly forming nation live up to its creed of freedom, and grant the same to their Black brethren held in bondage. Like Douglas would do near a century later, they understood the hypocrisy of the US yet put their hope in its grand ideals.

Many enslaved Blacks also attempted to join the Continental army, some of them successful and others returned to their masters. Quite a few offered to fight for the colonists, if they would be ensured freedom for themselves and their family in return. Blacks probably figured the greatest in the Continental forces within the navy, where sailors were not always restricted by color or race. The Continental Navy openly recruited both free and enslaved Blacks, mostly sought after for their prior experiences on merchant and British military vessels. Numerous Blacks, many of them slaves seeking escape and freedom, sought refuge in the navy where they served in battles against the British. A common practice among some white American slave owners was to in fact substitute a slave for military service rather than enlisting themselves. Thus even those Blacks that may not have been feeling a patriotic fervor, were MADE patriots – for white draft dodgers. Taking on tasks such as pilots, laborers and more these Blacks earned an impressive reputation for their invaluable skills. One of the most famous Black seamen was James Forten, who enlisted on the privateer Royal Louis. Altogether, it is believed some 5,000 free Black patriots served in the armies and navies of the Continental forces. The amount of slaves who served within is unknown. And one of the reasons this number is unknown is because of who they sided with. The Black American dichotomy was in full swing.

Revolutionary Loyalists

While there were Black patriots, many of them free, the majority of enslaved Blacks who fought in the Revolutionary War did not side with the 13 colonies – they fought for and cheered on the British. These Black Loyalists, as those who remained faithful to the British were called in the colonies, were quite numerous. Often promising freedom, the British eagerly enticed Black slaves to join their side. Many of these Blacks weighed their option between their masters and their masters’ enemies, and quickly chose the latter. And here we have the other side of the looking glass. This is where the complex tangle of conflicting realities that is Black American patriotism begins to unravel. For if the majority of Blacks in the US during the American Revolution had gotten their way, the 13 rebellious colonies would have been crushed by the British; Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Henry and the rest would have been placed on trial for treason against the royal crown; and all would have been hung by the neck until they were declared dead.

One of the key methods of disrupting the Continental army that many enslaved Blacks chose, was simply running away. During the Revolution an estimated 100,000 took advantage of the disruption caused by the war and escaped, many of them heading directly to join British forces – and asking to fight. Others fled to Canada, Florida, or Native American lands. Thomas Jefferson estimated that Virginia lost 30,000 slaves in just one year. Fugitive slave Boston King was one of these individuals, risking punishment or death to flee from bondage. He endured numerous harrowing adventures during his escape, finally making it to the British forces stationed in New York where most Black runaways were gathered.

Many of these runaways joined the British armies and navies outright, becoming fighters who wreaked havoc on American forces. One of the most well known of these was Colonel Tye, an escaped slave who joined the British as a guerilla fighter. In 1778 at the Battle of Monmouth, New Jersey Tye captured a captain of the American militia, earning a reputation and name among the British. Comprised of enslaved Blacks and lower class white loyalists, Colonel Tye’s rag-tag band became known as “cow-boys”. They carried out daring militia attacks throughout New Jersey, often attacking military outposts, former masters’ plantations and other Americans in rebellion against the British. During the brutal winter of 1779, Tye was among an elite group of twenty-four Black Loyalists, known as the Black Brigade, who joined with the Queen’s Rangers: a British guerrilla unit charged with protecting British held New York City and carrying out raids for supplies. By 1780 Tye and his band were feared by white American forces: capturing and killing Continental militia members, destroying their military equipment and more. As news of Colonel Tye’s feats reached an excited slave community, the American governor of NJ in a desperate move invoked martial law – fearing many more slaves would eagerly go over to the British and pick up arms against the 13 colonies.

And not only the enslaved joined the British forces. Many free Blacks, believing a win by the British would bring about the end of enslavement, urged Blacks (slave and free) to join the redcoats as well. In 1775, Jeremiah Thomas, a pilot, fisherman, “and Free Negroe of considerable property”, was hanged and burned in Charleston in an insurrection plot in which he enticed free and enslaved Blacks to join the Royal British navy.

Of course at war’s end, many Black Loyalists would find the British only partially honorable to their word. Of the 100,000+ slaves who looked to the British as saviors, a miniscule 3,000+ would be allowed to evacuate with them – the rest returned to their American masters or left to fend for themselves. And in further betrayal, the British sold many of the slaves who served them right back into slavery in the Caribbean. The enemy of your enemy is not always your friend. Yet the role of Blacks in the American Revolution illustrates well the dilemma that has faced the race with regards to patriotism, Americanism and love for a country that has not always returned the sentiment.

Double Consciousness

Long after Colonel Tye and Prince Hall and long after the Civil War and Frederick Douglas, WEB DuBois pondered the dichotomy of Black American existence. And he would deem it the double-consciousness. DuBois asserted that Blacks were of America, yet not so—living in two worlds that could complement or be at war with each other. And like many before him, DuBois showed how this dichotomy could affect Black American life so profoundly.

DuBois was born into a new and promising America. It was a land where Blacks were now declared free by the 13th Amendment, and supposedly would get to share in the American pie they had helped create. DuBois understood well that the America that existed did not erupt sui genesis, and that it owed much to Blacks. After all, if there were no slave trade to help create cash crops to help generate capital and commerce -there would have been no founding fathers to declare “independence” or carry out a revolution against the British. DuBois understood that slave money did not merely disappear. Profits from the slave trade had been invested to help found everything from Brown University to the Steam Engine, a key element in the Industrial Revolution. He knew that it was the Black agitators for freedom during the era of slavery that had forced America to follow through with its ideals, thus becoming a freer place for all of its citizens. DuBois understood that America was as much his as anyone else’s. And yet DuBois’ patriotism was tempered by the reality of the world about him – the continued dichotomy of Black existence.

A White Man’s Government or a Negro’s Cemetery

The end of the Civil War marked a new era for Black America. Recently freed slaves tested the limits of freedom by daring to reach for what only a few years prior had been beyond imagination. Blanche Kelso Bruce, an ex-slave, was representing Mississippi in the United States Senate. In Louisiana a Black man, P.B.S. Pinchback sat in the governor’s mansion. A Black face occupied a seat on the state supreme court in South Carolina. Blacks were superintendents of education, judges, state treasurers, solicitors and major generals of militia. Blacks and whites attended the same schools while an interracial board ran the University of South Carolina. But what seemed like a dream to Blacks was a bitter nightmare to white southerners. They had lost everything. Once opulent plantations lay in ruins. The wealth of the South seemed depleted. And in their minds, the fault lay at the doorsteps of their former slaves – ironically the same ones who had helped them gain such wealth in the first place. Their coveted throne of white superiority was being eroded by what they saw as “ungrateful wretches” who desired the unfathomable – the American ideal of promised equality.

To maintain their dominance whites rallied together to strip Blacks from any offices of power and prevent others from gaining such positions. They first declared Black politicians either ignorant or corrupt, sweeping many from power. They next went after any whites, Radical Republicans at the time, who aided Blacks. But in the end it was the power base of Black politicians that had to be neutralized. This lay in the Black masses and the Black vote. Polling places were purposefully set up far away from Black communities. Those who attempted to reach them found roads conveniently blocked or ferries out of repair. Sometimes the polling places were changed without warning or notice. Stuffing of ballots was so common that one smug Democrat stated, “Black Republicans may outvote us, but we can out count them”. Whites established laws that discriminated against illiterate Blacks or those who had been slaves at one time. Every southern state had its own method. And when these did not work, violence became a type of “final solution”.

It was called “whitecapping”, the use of violence to remove Blacks from political posts, drive them off their land and out of their businesses. North Carolina governor Daniel Russell would proclaim that for a Black man “to get above his ordained station in life is to invite assassination”. Democrat General John McEnery of Louisiana stated, “We shall carry the next election if we have to ride saddle-deep in blood to do it”. A South Carolinian newspaper declared, “We must render this a white man’s government or convert the land into a Negro’s cemetery”. It was state sponsored terrorism, plain and simple. And it went on not in some far off land, but in the very one that declared itself the land of the brave and the free.

Blacks like DuBois held onto their patriotism while in Memphis white policemen, firemen and laborers rioted against Black soldiers. Forty-six Blacks were killed, some 80 wounded and five Black women were raped; 12 Black schools and 4 Black churches were burned. Blacks clutched onto Old Glory as in Lake City, South Carolina a Black postmaster, his wife and infant were shot and burned to death by an angry white mob. In Wilmington, North Carolina, Reverend Charles S. Morris recalled the carnage of an anti-Black riot: “Nine Negroes massacred outright; one man … was given the privilege of running the gauntlet up a broad street … while crowds of men lined the sidewalks and riddled him with a pint of bullets … thousands of men and women and children fleeing in terror from their humble homes in the darkness of night … All this happened not in Turkey, nor in Russia … but within three hundred miles of the White House”. In Tulsa, Oklahoma a white mob began a riot resulting in the destruction of the city’s prosperous Black business and residential district. In Paducah, Kentucky, a Black rape suspect was lynched by a mob which then murdered a Black onlooker for “expressing sympathy” for the first. In Texas, a father and his three sons were lynched for the grand crime of harvesting the first cotton in the county that year. In Waco, a mob pulled a retarded Black youth from a courtroom, burned him alive, and then sold his teeth as souvenirs. In Brooks County, Georgia a mob stormed the countryside for a week killing more than 10 Blacks. This included a pregnant Black woman, Mary Turner, who was hung by her ankles, doused with gasoline and set afire, but not before her unborn child was cut from her stomach and trampled to death.

And the terrorism of these white Christian extremists was not confined to the South. As early as 1829 a white Cincinnati mob drove more than half of the Black population from the city. From 1832 to 1849 there were no less than five anti-Black riots in Philadelphia. The most infamous of the day were the anti-draft riots of New York in 1863 during the Civil War. Enraged white citizenry, fearing the competition they were certain would come with a free skilled Black work force, rioted for four days. Blacks were lynched from lampposts, raped, mutilated and shot in the streets of NY. Not even a Black orphanage was spared the terrorism, being burned to the ground. In 1908 for six days a white mob rioted in Springfield, Illinois lynching, shooting, raping and mutilating scores of Blacks and driving hundreds more from the city. The climax of these acts of terrorism occurred in the Red Summer of 1919, as 26 anti-Black riots left an unknown number dead from Chicago to Omaha. It was an “Axis of Evil”, a seeming alignment by terrorist thugs that made Black life a daily nightmare and trampled on America’s claimed ideals.

And where were the political parties, that today jockey for the Black vote? Well it would seem that “freeing slaves” and extending equality to Blacks were two separate matters entirely. The Democrats of our times may now be the self-proclaimed bastions of tolerance and racial justice, but back then they were the party of the South, Jim Crow and terrorism against Blacks. Frederick Douglas himself would state, “The Republican Party is the ship and all else is the sea”. But that affair proved short-lived, as even the claimed allies of Blacks turned a blind eye. Where were the champions of the pledge that asked for “liberty and justice for all? Well the author of the pledge himself, white Baptist minister Francis Bellamy, actually sympathized with the Black plight, wanting to add the word “equality” to it—but his idea was dismissed. Where were the American government and its executive in chief? President Woodrow Wilson was busy watching a private screening of Birth of a Nation, a movie depicting Blacks as rapist savages and the KKK as gallant heroes, at none other than the “peoples” building – the White House. He is reported to have exclaimed of the movie that is still used as a recruitment film for the Klan, “It’s like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all terribly true”. The enemies of American freedom were both small and powerful, not needing to hide in a cave or conceal their actions. No crusades of justice or wars of enduring freedom were ever massed against them. In fact the vast majority were never brought to justice.

This was the America that Blacks endured, as the words upon the Constitution they held seemed to grow dull and fade, while the double consciousness within them raged. Yet many continued to put forth their patriotism in the face of terrorism. They continued like Ida B. Wells to appeal to the moral conscience of the land to end lynching. Like Jesse Owens some ran against the claimed Aryan “supermen of the Third Reich for their country, delivering a shattering blow against German Nazism. Others became airmen at Tuskegee even as their government unknowingly used their brethren as guinea pigs. They held onto their patriotism, believing not in the America that daily terrorists tried to create, but rather the America that promised it could be so much more.

DuBois himself would exemplify the two feuding sides of this double consciousness, extolling America’s ideals of freedom and justice yet breaking down in anger and emotion at seeing the severed knuckles of a Black lynch victim displayed proudly on ice in a butcher shop window. DuBois would urge Blacks to fight in America’s great wars, and yet work hard to build a Pan-African political ideology. In the end DuBois patriotism was stretched to its limits, and the cynic won out. While in Peking in 1959 he told a large audience-”In my own country for nearly a century I have been nothing but a NIGGER”. By the time the U.S. press published the account, DuBois was residing in Ghana, West Africa: an expatriate in self-exile from the country of his birth. Even men of steel rust.

America or AmeriKKKa?

July 4th symbolizes an odd time for Black America. It is the birthday of the US, red-white-and blue, apple pie, baseball and mom. Yet it is also the birthday of the Black double consciousness: a ceaseless dichotomy that never seems to rest. It was there during the 1950s and 60s, as Blacks marched holding flags to fight for rights promised to them a century prior. The terrorists responded to their patriotism with dogs, high-powered water hoses and bombs that killed little girls. In one instance angry whites, opposed to bussing, held a Black man down and beat him with the US flag itself. None of this went unnoticed by the youths of the movement. They watched as Civil Rights leaders like Fanni Lou Hamer and D.U. Pullium were severely beaten. They watched as Herbert Lee and Louis Allen were beaten and eventually killed. As with DuBois, the cynicism over the hypocrisy finally burst forth and gave birth to the Black Power Movement. Patriotism took a backseat to pent-up frustration at a nation that refused to live up to its lofty ideals. Malcolm X would tell the world that he and other Blacks did not live the “American dream”, but the “American nightmare”. He declared to America that it had two choices: live up to its ideals and grant Blacks equality by way of the ballot and freedom, or suffer the consequences of the bullet. The proclamation of Patrick Henry, one time slave owner turned minor abolitionist, against his own oppressor of near two centuries prior had been hardly very different: “Give me liberty or give me death”. In his intricate knowledge of the law and his battles against capitalism, exploitation and police brutality, Huey P. Newton in his own way was declaring his double consciousness – threatening to take by force what he viewed as his right as a citizen and a human being. The Civil Rights Movement may have wanted to work within the system while many in the Black Power Movement wanted to do away with it completely, but both used the grand ideals America touted to call out her hypocrisy and demanded she live up to them or suffer the consequence.

Objection to the title or not, Blacks in the US are Americans. If you pay taxes you are an American. If you expect certain rights and benefits from the country you pay taxes to, you are an American. If you support or fight against politicians and policies, you are an American. If you use the school systems, numerous public services and such, you are an American. If you go off to enlist in a war or would rather get thrown in jail as a conscientious objector during draft time, you’re an American. If you vote for a candidate or write in “HANDS OFF ASSATA” on the ballot, you’re still an American. Whether you stand up and proudly say the pledge or sit and turn your back at its seeming hypocrisy, you are an American. In fact the America that exists today, the one that questions itself about freedom and liberty, would not have existed if not for the constant struggles of Black Americans who condemned the country for its glaring contradictions and challenged it to live up to its ideals. What would the America of today look like if not for the Frederick Douglass’, Ida B. Wells, Martin Luther Kings, etc. of its history? How many different races and peoples who enter its borders owe any success they gain in part to Black bodies that have fought wars not only against foreign governments abroad, but pitched battles in the streets or courthouses against their own government right here at home? Would the word freedom, equality, liberty and such mean much of anything if not for Black America? Even those Blacks that only recently come to the country within the last few decades become Black Americans, with all the hard fought privileges or lack-there-of that exists within. I know the philosophical argument about not being American. It speaks to powerful truths. Yet with all due respect to brother Malcolm’s statement about kittens and ovens, the definition of an American still stands – full diner or not; love or disgust for the country or not. And when he challenged America to choose the ballot or the bullet, he understood that part of the double consciousness that made him an American as well.

Yet the other side of that consciousness exists, often turning the patriotic into cynical criticism. For when it comes to Black America’s history and Old Glory, there is a hypocrisy that cannot be swept away with one hundred tragic 9-11s. It makes it difficult or downright impossible for many to dress up in red-white-and-blue, get teary eyed at hearing the national anthem or slap hands over hearts and chant “with, liberty and justice for all” – “under God” or NOT “under God”. Someone should take a poll of how many Black parents yet tell their children to protest the pledge by omitting words they find hypocritical, clamping mouths shut during its recital or sitting down altogether. One side of that double consciousness may admire Thomas Jefferson for his democratic ideals of liberty and freedom. Yet like his Black contemporary Benjamin Banneker, the cynical side sees him as nothing more than an oppressive, slave holding tyrant who openly expressed ideas of Black inferiority – with pedophilic predilections towards young Black girls he called property. And even when many manage to lock much of the cynicism away through selective amnesia and revel in America anyway, a little bitterness lingers in the background – a small but violent storm created by what seems like an endless struggle. It’s why the likes of Baldwin and DuBois left to go elsewhere, why Black America has had such a flirtatious affair with Castro’s Cuba, and why we still smile in glee when somebody “sticks it to da’ man”. It’s why we are apt to believe rumors about losing Voting Rights in 2000-something (it IS a HOAX folks!). It’s why we are often some of the first to criticize American foreign policy or domestic limits upon freedom, having well seen what happens when government power goes unchecked (i.e., COINTELPRO and the CIA). We’re the ones who will not allow crooked cops to hide behind badges of authority and threaten to burn it all down when they get off. We’re the consciousness of America, the ones that always remind her she may have come a long way – but still got quite a few miles to go.

The Greatest Patriotism

The fact is, as bad as it can be, America is probably one of the best (if not the best) countries to live in at the moment. There are other countries where sites like www.playahata.com wouldn’t just be watched, but jailed or exterminated. There are places where Mumia Abu Jamal might have faced a firing squad before ever languishing on death row. There are lands where no one could talk about George Dubya and the hypocrisy of government to near sedition, the way many do. The America on paper, the one with grand ideals and virtues of liberty and freedom, is not a bad idea. In fact Black America has supported that paper ideal since America’s inception.

So it’s not that Black America’s double consciousness is anti-democracy, anti-freedom, or anti-liberty. Rather it’s often anti-exploitation, anti-hypocrisy and anti-oppression. The dichotomy that lay buried with the bullet in Crispus Attucks’ chest created patriotism beyond anything most of white America has ever known. It does not shed tears because of the color of any flag or any founding father or cracked bell in Philadelphia. Words like Jefferson and Washington are more so anti-heroes than idols. Instead Black patriotism stands up for the greatest ideals written into the American idea. Black patriotism is loyal to freedom and justice, not jingoism and the power of might. Black patriotism calls for America to follow democracy and fairness, not only in this land but also in its dealings abroad. And Black patriotism does this not to glorify any nation it may or may not pledge allegiance to, but because these noble ideals exemplify what is moral, right and just. And that is the greatest patriotism anyone can have: not to some country in time and space destined to rise and fall as all nations do, but to a set of ideas that transcends fireworks and founding fathers and speaks to the essence of the human spirit.

MORPHEUS- Exposin Fake Shyt
[Released: July 2002]

Blues Talkin'

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