Independence Day 2020: Reflections on Monuments, History, and Now

On this 244th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, wherein the seeds of the United States of America were planted, I am struck by how much and how little ,we have achieved. If nothing else, we have fought continuously to define what “independence,” “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” “freedom,” “rights,” and “responsibility” mean. At the core of this fight has always been, and still remains, the status of Black People—who were brought to this country against their will, but whose blood, sweat, tears, and sacrificed lives form the marrow of America—“Land of the Free… Home of the Brave.”

 

Screenshot by Jackie Oldham

Five days ago, this extraordinary opinion article about Confederate monuments, by writer/poet Caroline Randall Williams, landed in my inbox [https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/26/opinion/confederate-monuments-racism.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage]. At the time, I was struggling to write a poem reckoning with my own mixed heritage and my place in the story of America. After reading this article, my first reaction was to set aside my woeful attempt and proclaim: “Yes! This explains it all! My 30% White DNA (England/Wales/Northwestern Europe, 27%; Ireland/Scotland, 1%; Sweden, 1%, Portugal, 1%) makes sense!”

But after watching an interview with the author, who looks nothing like the drawing that accompanied her article, I found myself raising even more questions. How dare she claim the rape of the Confederacy and Jim Crow in her genes, when in my own family, White rape of my Black slave forebears pre-dated that Confederacy? How dare she flaunt her Blackness, when her skin is as alabaster as my paternal grandmother’s, who was, herself, the child of the progeny of a slave raped by her master; and her hair, no more “good” than mine, though my skin is several shades darker than hers?

And then, I stopped. Ms. Randall Williams’ story simply reflects the last heavy gasp of a racist White system that goes back 400 years! Her bold claim, “I am a Confederate monument,” is just as much mine as hers. And I must note that, at 32 years old, she is half my age!

The scourge of racism runs deep and long, even among Black people—a byproduct of racism known as Colorism: If you can pass the brown-paper-bag test, you can get a job in the front office; if you are too brown, you get the basement office job; if you are too black, you get fieldwork, or its modern equivalents. Then, there is the corollary of Colorism: Hair-ism. But that’s a story for another day….

Toppled Monuments

It’s not just the Confederate Traitors whose monuments—built long after the Civil War—are being knocked down and tossed into rivers, bays, and oceans. To the horror and chagrin of the Italian community, Christopher Columbus is also being tossed. Columbus, who accidentally stumbled onto American soil while searching for a direct route from Europe to Asia!  Just yesterday, one of three statues of Columbus in my fair city was toppled unceremoniously into the Baltimore Harbor!

Fireworks!?!

On this 244th anniversary of The Declaration of Independence, the entire nation has been wailing about the fireworks in every hamlet, town, and city, at all hours of the day.

As I cowered in my living room last night, praying that the “bombs bursting in air” would not burn my house down, I imagined myself hearing the sounds of the Revolutionary War playing out. As it was in The Beginning.

Do you not know that fireworks were mandated as part of the Independence Day celebration, from the beginning? I read somewhere that it was Ben Franklin’s brilliant idea. But that story is not quite true. Apparently, it was John Adams who wished for the day to be celebrated with “…’guns’ and ‘bonfires’ and ‘illuminations.’” [https://time.com/4828701/first-fireworks-history-july-4th/]

And What, Now?

 On this 244th anniversary of The Declaration of Independence, I believe we are in fact celebrating not just its anniversary, but a new Declaration, a new Civil War, and a new American Revolutionary War!

 

Let us pray that our nation survives to celebrate 245 years.


7 thoughts on “Independence Day 2020: Reflections on Monuments, History, and Now

  1. My, my! I wonder about the accuracy if this DNA business–which is truly a business. Among other additives (but my ancestry is predominately black), I’m 11% Portuguese and 11% Mauritanian.

    Regarding the first, get outta here! I know my paternal and maternal roots back to my great great grand parents. No references to “Portuguese input,” with the exception of an early 20th-century marriage that did not produce offspring.

    Regarding the second, what is now called Mauritania contributed very few captives during the Atlantic slave trade to an assortment of polities in the Americas (though the legality of internal bondage there was only abolished recently, just a few decades ago).

    Also, though one of my great grandmothers was a Choctaw, DNA shows that I only have 2% Native American blood. My late siblings and my late mother (along with lots of first cousins) “looked” the part, but I don’t–not one bit.

    My bottom line here? I don’t trust the authenticity of “roots research” via DNA.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comments Mr. Dorsey. DNA data are just one tool of genealogical analysis. A paternal relative also did extensive first-hand records searches decades ago, using The National Archives and state records. The United Kingdom genes are verified there. But I’m not the only family member to get DNA testing. Our results are consistent, though not identical since no two people have the exact same DNA profile. As well, different companies may find other results depending on their protocols. I know the results I’ve gotten are estimates at best, and they are periodically updated. Nevertheless, the updated results have been largely consistent.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I read that article too, Jackie. Your essay prompted a careful rereading. I must admit I felt an initial glimmer of affinity with Ms. Williams at first but then became increasingly uneasy as I read on. I was not quite sure why. I pushed those feelings aside. Your article resurrected them. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comments, Jocelyn. Good to know I’m not the only one with mixed reactions about Ms. Williams’ article. This history of ours is still leaving its mark on us all, to be sure. I daresay history is not just about the past. It also affects our present and future….

      Like

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