When I was in the fifth grade, this line staggered me: “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” I pondered it for weeks, and then, when the rest of the class stood up, hand over heart, dutifully reciting the pledge, I steadfastly refused to stand. This, of course, triggered a parent-teacher conference, as I ignored the teacher prompting me to rise and deliver the pledge.
My father already knew why, but wanted to hear my understanding and articulation of what I was refusing to do. I told him that those lines did not ring true, that I had been instructed not to lie, and that I simply did not see where liberty and justice was, in fact, for all.
As a child, I cringed in front of the television watching newsreel of dogs attacking Black men, women, and children as water, with pressure strong enough to pick up and knock down grown men, was brutally sprayed.
I remember when my television program was interrupted to announce that “King” had died. I asked what king had died, but the question was drowned out as my uncle cried, “They murdered that man!” My parents rushed into the living room, and stood stone silent, agonizing as they processed the senseless assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I have vivid memories of my father attending the funeral of Fred Hampton, who was murdered at point blank range after enduring a fuselage of bullets tearing through the home where he and others lay sleeping. This spectacular abuse of power had plunged the Black community into mourning.
When my family traveled pass the horrendous Robert Taylor concentration camp housing projects, off the Dan Ryan expressway — looking at the way Black people were forced to live — I wondered, again, where was the liberty and justice for all?
As stories circulated about Black children who were beaten up in the nearby predominantly white suburb, where I attended school, and it necessitated carpooling us to and from school, I meditated about all the privileges and constitutional protections by which we all supposedly live.
In the disingenuous national arguments aimed at using Critical Race Theory to obscure an honest conversation about a truthful rendering of the history of this country in our public schools, no one is centering how Black children feel as they are force-fed a curriculum that defames their parents, relatives, and ancestors; that portrays Black people in a false light; and that many of our kids experience as traumatizing to the spirit and soul, just as I did. Our history and truths are completely at odds with the pervasive white supremacist ethos that permeates this culture.
Black people are lazy I was told; yet, practically every able-bodied adult in my family and community worked until retirement, some two and three jobs. The ones who did not work stayed at home mothering. I have uncles I rarely saw as a child because they were always working.
Black people don’t value education, I have been told. Yet, Black people, right out of slavery, waged a campaign that resulted in universal public education in the South. My whole childhood was filled with aphorisms about the “importance of education; and my family is full of well-educated professionals.
Black people commit too many crimes, I was told; yet I knew many white kids who stole and acted out, but they rarely got into trouble.
Black people needed to stop using drugs. However, at my predominantly white high school and sister school, many white kids had drugs — angel dust, quaaludes, “uppers” and “downers”— drugs of which many Black kids had never even heard, but the prisons filled up with young Black people for alleged drug charges.
Black people this; Black people that — insert something negative. Yet, even as a kid, I knew Black people were being maligned with a narrative calculated to be destructive.
So, what about the Black kids? Many of them have already been taught, in their homes by their parents, about Tulsa, other race massacres, lynchings, and the humiliations and perils of Jim Crow, and beyond. What about the Black kids who sit, fuming, listening to ill-informed lectures and lessons that imply, with dangerous myths, lies, omissions, stereotypes, and inaccuracies, that Black people need to transcend their Blackness to succeed? For if those Black kids dare to contradict accepted racist orthodoxy, they are deemed insubordinate.
Does anyone care about the problematic education Black parents’ tax dollars support? We have gone from not having access to public schools and state universities that our parents pay for, to having access to schools that don’t teach the whole, unvarnished truth. Yes, pledge allegiance and teach the truth.