In 2017 in Alabama, the President of the United States said to a group of cheering white people:
Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired.
The symbolism is impossible to miss. The ‘sons of bitches’ that the President is referring to are primarily black men who play on teams owned by rich white men. These athletes have owners. Even in the time of twitter when history is farther away than 140 characters, the historical link to America’s heritage of slavery is clear. If it wasn’t, the President recalled that heritage explicitly in case we missed it. According to him, these black athletes have “a total disrespect for our heritage, and everything we stand for.”
My heritage in the Americas began with being owned. For black people, our heritage was not gilded with ownership, it was barbed terror. What these players are protesting is the litany of white police men who are shooting and killing black people with impunity. The murderous behavior of the police is a continuing public display of the inhumanity that is the foundation of the dark side of American heritage. The same side that the President champions and is immortalized in the statues of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and their kind. The same side that thought it ordained that white people should own, buy and sell black people.
These athletes are protesting a heritage that viewed black people as beasts, as mere sons of bitches. Chattel. The President’s remarks loosely translated into 19th century American heritage language would be, “Countrymen, gentlemen and fellow Christians, I implore you to snatch those uppity niggers off the field right now and string ‘em up – that’ll teach ‘em to have some goddamn respect.”
In 1852, Frederick Douglass addressed the Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society and delivered his remarks, What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? In that address he offered an answer – “A day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration [of the 4th of July] is a sham.”
The President’s recollection of American heritage is a sham. America’s future is dependent on its ability to achieve humanity and redemption. It can only learn that from the people who were subject to its inhumanity and remained human despite. Once the President and his tribe learn that lesson, American heritage will be revealed to them and perhaps then we can all have something to stand for.