My political consciousness was forged on an anvil not made of iron or steel, but books and music. My parents supplied me with the good stuff that prevented me from achieving bliss because ignorance was never an option. Let’s talk records.
In 1988, during the golden age of hip-hop, I was given a copy of one of the greatest albums ever recorded – “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” by Public Enemy. Chuck D spat fire and introduced me to John Coltrane and Joanne Chesimard while challenging me to think critically about America’s war on poor Black and brown people (artfully camouflaged as the war on drugs) and the prison-military-industrial complex. As July 4th approaches I will listen to “Louder than a Bomb” and reflect on Flavor Flav’s introductory salvo, “Picture us cooling out on the Fourth of July. And if you heard we were celebrating that’s a worldwide lie!”
Let’s talk books. My mother gave me a tattered, discarded Bibb County, Ga., textbook entitled “Eyewitness: The Negro in American History” by William Loren Katz when I was nine or ten. That book became my favorite possession. Its pictures are seared upon my imagination. Especially a photograph of an enslaved man named Peter who had been whipped by his overseer. He also introduced me to Frederick Douglass’s classic oration from July 5, 1852, entitled, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” It’s time to reflect upon those timeless words again.
Many folk will bristle at my juxtaposition of the rhetorical artistry of Flavor Flav and the venerable Frederick Douglass. Before my political awakening the Fourth was a fun day of barbecue, games, and fellowship with family and friends. Now, I reflect upon this nation’s refusal to live up to the syrupy platitudes about liberty and sacrifice our political leaders will serve us like so many hot dogs.
The government and the corporate media celebrate as patriots those who are uncritically supportive of America’s imperial exploits. That is not my heritage. I am Richard Allen’s son, the first Black man to write a political pamphlet challenging America’s white supremacy. I am Ida B. Wells Barnett’s son, the powerful Black woman who refused to let America lynch black bodies without sounding the alarm of outrage. I am Bayard Rustin’s son, the Black man who strategically organized people and resources to challenge the status quo and to demand justice from America. Only July 4, 2013, I will reflect on America as it was and as it is. And I will affirm my allegiance to my ancestors whose fight lives on in me.
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