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Down on One Knee

For me, as an African-American woman whose ancestors were enslaved in this self-proclaimed land of the free, loving the United States of America often feels like staying in a relationship with a mostly good man who shows potential for greatness despite his many flaws, weaknesses, and numerous past mistakes.

While being constantly prodded to step up, stand out, lead, dominate, win, conquer, he struggles to overcome his disappointments, failures, and setbacks that make it hard for him to move through life as his best, most ethical self. He needs some more time to mature before he’s willing to commit to a life-long relationship of equally yoked partners whose union nurtures and serves the best interests of the united individuals, their extended families and their various communities of friendship, work, faith, study, recreation, etc.

Like the long-suffering girlfriend of many years who slides from presumptive anticipation (Emancipation Proclamation) to optimistic patience (Reconstruction) to subtle hints and compromises (Booker T. Washington’s strategy), then to less-than-subtle suggestions (W.E.B. DuBois’s strategy), explicit demands (1950s – 60s Civil Rights Movement) that escalate before ultimatums and threats lead to volatile conflicts (shouting matches and riots) as the norm, this African-American woman, observing herself from the outside looking in, keeps investing her energy, talents, time, and love into the well-being of the U.S.A. even when it doesn’t reciprocate.

Even when it disrespects, dishonors, abuses, and dismisses her, she just works harder to use her achievements to demonstrate her worthiness to receive equal access to all human and civil rights along with all of the protections, rights, and privileges of her full-fledged citizenship, already paid for multiple times in the blood and toil and suffering of her enslaved ancestors.

After waiting for a proposal, she makes one of her own: Let’s get engaged with local, state, and federal law enforcement to eliminate racial and other biases in policing while keeping everyone’s safety as the top priority.

When the country makes promises, then breaks those promises, then excuses itself from being responsible for this habit of betrayal by shifting the blame, and refusing to hold itself accountable for breaking faith again and again and again over the course of multiple generations, she still believes in the potential for a U.S.A. that practices the highest ideals of what it preaches. It’s a 21st-century version of Jacob, Rachel, Leah, and their uncle, Laban, where Jacob represents oppressed black people. Rachel is a symbol of oppressed people’s ultimate freedom to live, love, and prosper. Leah represents the bait-and-switch of not delivering what was originally offered and accepted. Uncle Laban equals Uncle Sam, who isn’t evil, but is always looking for ways to get disproportionately more for himself than he gives to Jacob in exchange for Jacob’s labor. Jacob received what he had rightly earned after 14* years. Black people are still waiting one-hundred fifty-two years after the end of the U.S. Civil War.

A true love of country that is healthy abides and endures, sacrifices and forgives because it is freely given. It can’t be coerced or mandated or legislated. It can’t be bought with money.
My love for the U.S.A. is a grown-up love. The country’s strengths and weaknesses, beauty and ugliness, shady past and future possibilities inspire a commitment to invest myself in its success. The fundamental element of that success is to achieve the reality of ending the attitude of perpetual open season on people who embody otherness.

One day, the spirit of the Declaration of Independence will apply as if written with these words: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all human beings are created equal… One day, every reference to man/men will unquestionably translate to human/humans.

In 1857 Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

Professional athletes and others are joining the #TakeAKnee campaign to amplify the voices of demand for social justice for all of us.

*Some scholarly debate exists about the details, but ultimately, Jacob was scammed into working twice as long as the original agreement.


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