Archive for April, 2008

SLAVES, FOUNDERS AND PATRIOTS Tuesday April 22, 2008 By Alice Travis

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008

Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice’s comments to the Washington Times on Senator Obama’s race speech included several not commonly heard observations which bear reflection.

While acknowledging that many blacks call themselves African-American, Dr. Rice said that they should not be viewed as immigrants. According to a transcript of the interview released by the State Department, Dr. Rice explained, “We don’t mimic the immigrant story. Where this conversation has got to go is that black Americans and white Americans founded this country together and I think we’ve always wanted the same thing.”

The Secretary’s statements reminded me of a conversation which took place much more than a quarter of a century ago. In 1974 I interviewed Eugene D. Genovese whose tome Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made had just been released.  I’m not certain about my AM New York co-host; but, at the time I shied away from most book reviews. I’d discovered that objective reading of important books resulted in livelier television discussions. I found the book to be profound and years later frequently referred to it when reflecting on issues of race. I never agreed with the book’s critics who labeled it as racist propaganda because Genovese did not paint a portrait of a homogenous army of perpetually angry slave militants. The very condition of being owned by another is by definition descriptive of the heinous, cruel, brutal and morally intolerable institution of slavery.

Genovese introduced the world that the slaves made with this explanation: “American slavery subordinated one race to another and thereby rendered its fundamental class relationship more complex and ambiguous…But slavery as a system of class rule predated racism and racial subordination in world history….”

Secretary Rice’s comment on blacks as the nation’s co-founders acknowledges that though most blacks have ancestors who were slaves during a period of our history, their labor and its fruits along with the worlds they created for physical and psychological survival were enormously instrumental in creating and defining the distinctive American character and American culture which have emerged in our regional and national institutions.

She also quite emphatically underscored that patriotism in blacks predated the death of jim crow. This in and of itself is testimony to the incredible cerebral journey from the condition of slavery to the clear and unmistakable understanding among black Americans that they have blood and sweat equity in this nation.

In March of 2007 during the Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony honoring the Tuskegee Airmen, President George W. Bush shared a personal history which pointedly addressed the issue of patriotism and race:

I have a strong interest in World War II airmen. I was raised by one. He flew with a group of brave young men who endured difficult times in the defense of our country. Yet for all they sacrificed and all they lost, in a way, they were very fortunate, because they never had the burden of having their every mission, their every success, their every failure viewed through the color of their skin. Nobody told them they were a credit to their race. Nobody refused to return their salutes. Nobody expected them to bear the daily humiliations while wearing the uniform of their country.

It was different for the men in this room. When America entered World War II, it might have been easy for them to do little for our country. After all, the country didn’t do much for them. Even the Nazis asked why African American men would fight for a country that treated them so unfairly. Yet the Tuskegee airmen were eager to join up.

I …offer a gesture to help atone for all the unreturned salutes and unforgivable indignities. And so, on behalf of the office I hold, and a country that honors you, I salute you for the service to the United States of America.

I listened carefully as the widow of one of the soldiers and her friend of sixty odd years, too a widow, later recounted the ground swell of pride and patriotism that burst forth from the gathering as the remaining Tuskegee Airmen returned the President’s salute. The thunderous applause was apolitical. The women are democrats.

The widowed friend spoke of her husband, a black man, who also served his county in Europe during WWII. She recalled that after 9/11 she had flown the flag that draped his coffin. She also remembered well the sight of the flag that draped her brother’s coffin. He gave his life on Okinawa. Deep in the recesses of her mind, this 86 year old woman stores memory of the indignity her mother suffered at a segregated jim crow Gold Star Mothers tribute sixty years before. This is the vileness of which President Bush and Secretary Rice spoke. In all of its heinousness, it did not sever the yoke of patriotism or founder’s birthright.

Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s intonation “God damn America,” for whatever perceived greater good, has sent shock waves throughout America. The apologists ought to step aside. There is a community of American mothers—black and white, red, yellow and brown who have heard the bugle play taps, who have seen the flag cornered, who have witnessed the coffin lowered. In Arlington, at The Tomb of the Unknowns, guarded every minute of every day since 1937, lie the remains of American soldiers whose races and identities are “known but to God.”

Alice Travis is an information theorist. She is the author of Cognitive Evolution: The Biological Imprint of Applied Intelligence.