So, now the latest “controversy’ out of the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil is gymnast Gabby Douglas not placing her right hand over her heart for the playing of the national anthem during the team gymnastics competition medal ceremony. The two-time Olympian has come under attack on social media and vilified by the chirping class of online zealots who profess to love everything about America except when it comes wrapped in blackness. The criticism is simply veiled hatred and has absolutely nothing to do with patriotism or a deep sense of nationalism. It’s just the latest idiocy by those who are offended by any representation of Black independence and strength.
Our country is awash in pseudo-patriotism, most of it coded rhetoric and symbolism pledged to the preservation of white privilege. The childish and cowardly attacks on this gifted young Black woman is rooted in the antebellum tinged “Make America Great Again” mantra of supporters of Donald Trump, a lineage of white supremacy that is related to the “America: Love it or Leave It” expressions of generations past. It is just the latest expression of resentment and fear that is surfacing on a regular basis as the nation inches its way to a nonwhite majority.
The posturing of these ‘patriots’ defies the essence of the nation’s national anthem penned by Francis Scott Key as British troops pounded the Baltimore harbor and he glorified “the land of the free.” I suspect we didn’t read the fine print, the disclaimer on Key’s notes – “with the exception of anyone not white.” America loves to uphold the virtues of freedom and liberty, and expound on the exceptional nature of our democracy except when it comes to Black people.
We’ve witnessed this great contradiction in every war fought under the flag of this nation. Blacks could fight for this nation, kill in its name, bleed and die for its cause but dare we demand the liberties for which we were fighting or have the expectation to be afforded the rights the nation was extolling abroad and defending in battle. That flag and the anthem that anoints it with some mystical power did little for those Blacks in uniform returning home. Placing their hands over their hearts to the strains of the national anthem did not change their fortunes. The same hatred and discrimination they faced before their military service and while in uniform, greeted them upon their discharge and weighed heavily upon their families. The anthem served as a haunting reminder of America’s moral blind spot and its determination to leave unfulfilled the promise of 1787 for the descendants of enslaved Africans brought to its shores.
Placing our right hand over our heart did not protect us from the lynch mob or the pain of seeing our homes set ablaze. It did not free us from rogue juries and southern justice, or economic starvation. Our willingness to surrender to symbolism rather than object to our degradation has made us easy prey. Patriotism is a luxury Blacks cannot afford but are heavily taxed to protect the freedom of others.
Despite the meaninglessness of the gesture of right hand to heart as the national anthem is played, flag waving zealots unleash their ignorance on this young dynamo, the very essence of the best of this country. These are likely the same ignoramuses that launch cowardly attacks upon the Obama children from their keyboards and find no contradiction in their belief in American exceptionalism and the murder of Black people by agents of the state – local law enforcement. They wail the national anthem and wave the stars and stripes but somehow see no contradiction in the litany of abuses heaped upon Black people on a daily basis. They claim to bleed red, white and blue while Black people just bleed; and live reduced lives and die not having experienced the freedom this nation claims to offer in distant lands in the name of regime change. Regimes change in this nation but the oppression of Black people, even those who sing the anthem and pledge allegiance, goes unabated.
There’s a simple way to exact the reflexive loyalty from Black people that Gabby’s detractors seem to want. Stop killing us for being Black.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.