Category Archives: American Identity

1619

 

“About the latter end of August, a Dutch man of Warr of the burden of a 160 tunes arrived at Point-Comfort, the Comandors name Capt Jope, his Pilott for the West Indies one Mr Marmaduke an Englishman. … He brought not any thing but 20 and odd Negroes, w[hich] the Governo[r] and Cape Merchant bought for victuall[s].”

| John Rolfe

Four hundred years ago this month, the first Africans were brought to what is now America’s shores and we are still feeling the ripple affects of their bodies stolen, bodies chained, bodies renamed.  So, we can’t say their names.

“20 and odd Negroes.”

I write to count them among us.  1…2…3…4…5…6…7…8…9…10…11…12…13…14…15…16… 17…18…19…20.  These bodies count.  Add them to the body count.  America likes to pile on and today, persons continue the debate about stock piling weapons as a right.  Mass murderers, Americans are the king of the hill.

I write to acknowledge their presence because we are them.  We are what we have done to them.  In the same boat, we sink or swim, float or fall to the bottom, never to rise to the full expression of our human being.  If we cannot see them and frankly every human being as our sister and brother, then we are the real other.

Because they are what is foundational to America– bodies capitalized on, cultures undone, histories shunned, lands seized upon in the name of religion and then race.  But, it was and is always about power.  The others are just nicknames.  The Africans enslaved and those indigenous to what is now the United States of America know the country’s real name.  They know who America really is, which is why their voices were discounted and drowned out right from the start.

Their mouths were covered and their continued silence is evidence of the worst coverup.  Yes, they shout but have these persons really spoken up?  Because we don’t really want to know the cost of this so- called American identity.  We don’t want to know what it truly means to be an American.  How many names have been changed, cultures sacrificed, languages lost, allegiances sworn to America, forsaking all others.

Assimilation in America is assassination.  Who we were, could be, would be and should have the right to be falls to the bottom if we are to rise to the top.  Citizenship in America is the death of self.  No matter how many of your family members came together, whatever your number, we are no more and no less than those “20 and odd Negroes.”  No country of origin, only a color and human beings don’t find that odd.

What year is it?

Words we cannot send back

Today, Donald Trump sent another divisive message to his followers via his official Twitter account regarding Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.  For those who would make excuses or who are praying that his racist comments will just blow over, they won’t.  Telling people not socially colored white to “go back home” or to “go back to where they came from” is not a new directive and deserves a response.

But we don’t need a history or geography lesson to point out his failings or flawed argument.  While the media struggled to label his words racist, we don’t have to wait for them to use the adjective.  It was racist.  Because this is not really about one’s place of birth or even country of origin.  Not simply telling someone to leave the country but believing it is within your right to do so is the problem.

Where does this confidence come from?  It is colonial in origin.  It is proof of America’s continued possession by the spirit of conquest.  It is the belief that socially engineered white people have the power to determine the belonging or dis-belonging of another group not given the privileged label.  It is the assertion that said persons have the power to move bodies anywhere around the world as they so choose, for their pleasure and to maintain their comfort.  It is a historical habit, never changed or challenged.

Colonizers went to ancestral homes and relocated African bodies for labor and exploitation during the Trans- Atlantic Slave Trade and destroyed indigenous bodies, belonging to what is now the United States of America, that received them on their shores, is what needs to be named.  Neither group told European settlers to “go back” or to get back or to keep off their land.  The locals were hospitable; these strangers were hostile.

Still, in the crowd of thousands, persons chanted, “Send her back” at Trump’s recent North Carolina rally.  But send Congresswoman Omar back where exactly?  What address do they have on file?  They talk as if she is a package to be returned due their dissatisfaction.  She is not what they want in American society.

It is their choice to make, their right to refuse her though she, too, is an American citizen.  Is she is not American enough and where does she need to go to get more American?  Because there are levels, grades, rungs to this identity.  And Congresswoman Omar has apparently been outranked.

That rally was like a committee meeting and all Americans got to watch persons reject other Americans not socially colored white on live television.  The chant lasted seconds but long enough to echo back centuries.  We’ve heard this all before.  This is not a new request.  When formerly enslaved Africans were freed and stood as a visible reminder of the barbarity of their enslavers, they wanted to send them back to.

No longer reflecting the relationship of oppressor and oppressed, the mirror that African faces became was more than their enslavers could stand.  And today it is tempting to look away, to change the channel or the conversation.  But, it won’t change what Trump and thousands of his supporters said.  We can’t send those words back.

They are fully present; now we must account for them.

What’s in the melting pot?

Recently, journalist Tom Brokaw was called out on comments he made on Meet the Press where he suggested that Hispanics were not doing enough to assimilate.  He has since apologized but the conversations continue online, on buses and in taxis, at barbershops and salons, in breakrooms and over dinner as to what he meant and more specifically, what it means to be American.  To be sure, I am glad that he said it out loud.  Rather than pretend or tolerate persons from other cultures, give voice to your fears and the secret checklist that you only take out in with friends and family.

Because you can’t exactly take back that some persons are struggling with whether or not they  “want brown grandbabies.”  As ignorant as it is insulting, it is a racist belief that human beings who are not socially colored white should be treated as unwelcomed and rejected upon sight, that we know all there is to know about the baby boy or girl based on the social coloring of skin.  Most people are descent enough not to call a baby unattractive but to outright reject the possibility of the child, to abort the idea of a little one because they are a member of a culture that others have deemed inferior is heartless.  Persons who espouse this belief are pre-hating, pre- stereotyping, pre- segregating their families.  Before it even happens, they are drawing lines around their hearts and their homes with their tongues.

This is who my family is and who we always will be.  All others: Do not enter.  Keep off the grass.

***

We want persons to become American, to become one of us but how much of themselves must they give up?  Deny?  Reject?  Why can’t they keep their heritage, their culture, their language, their name?  Why do they have to lose themselves altogether?  Who has the recipe?  The measuring cups?  Are we eyeing the amount or is it exact?

When I was a child, I was told that America was a melting pot.  If this were the case, then how is it that the flavors of all the cultures that have entered are not reflected?  That persons after jumping into the pot are still being told to “go back to where you came from”?  This makes me wonder who is in charge of the ingredients?  Who is the taste tester and who is this dish being served to?

Who are we becoming as Americans and who says that we are what our founders and fellow Americans intended?  Who has the right to say that someone is “un-American” and where do these meanings come from?  Frankly, I would like to see the checklist.  I want persons to come to the table and say how they really feel about “brown grandbabies”– because they are not coming but already here.  They are in the so- called melting pot, whether or not you want them to touch you, to rub off on you, to be associated or affiliated or closer still, related to you or not.

I am convinced that we are making a myth, that what is in the pot is a false hero narrative of the founding of this country and of a people who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps versus those who choked the life and culture out of people who are indigenous to what is now the United States (Sadly, the names of the people have been snuffed out.) and who tied a rope around Africans to enslave them, to lynch them and then to limit them through segregation and the Black Codes that continue even today.

We have to talk about it; if not, comments like Brokaw’s will merely stir the pot.