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Black Athletes and the Mother Thing

The storytelling tradition in North America dates back thousands of years, yet, American school books begin with the literature of the Puritans, a dark literature of the End Times in which godly people are surrounded by invisible evils. Nonconformist women were regarded as witches, who, while burning at the stake cursed their executioners as well as their executioners’ descendants. The Puritan’s got the mass killing ball rolling with the extermination of the Indians who helped them settle in New England. Extermination as a method of dealing with the Native Americans moved westward. My friend, the late poet William Oandasan, was a member of the Yuki tribe. He told me that as a result of the invasion by Americans and before them the Spanish, there were few Yukis remaining. I last saw him in New Orleans. He was in a bad mental state. He said that White people were trying to murder him. He died shortly after our meeting.

There seems to be a curse on the United States that stems from atrocities committed during the dark ages of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries when Blacks were regarded as property, and the Native population was nearly exterminated. These acts influence the America of today. The Electoral College began when slaveholders believed that if elections were based on the popular vote, they’d be outvoted by the North. States Rights were invented because slaveholders, Thomas Jefferson, and others, were afraid that John Quincy Adams would federalize their slaves.  Decades of school children have been taught a PG-rated version of American history which honors Indian fighters and slaveholders.

One of the features of America’s cultural war is the tension between the good old boy historians and a rising group of younger historians, women, Black, Hispanic and Native American, who are challenging cherished myths of America. One of them is Gerald Horne, author of Negro Comrades of the Crown, a brilliant work which argues that slaveholders fought the British because they believed the British would free Black slaves. Promised freedom, some Blacks fought alongside the British. Their quest for freedom is scorned in the verse of the country’s National Anthem, a belligerent piece of noise, whose author, Francis Scott Key,was a wealthy Maryland slaveholder, who, like Alexander Hamilton, believed that human beings were part of the farm equipment. Hamilton accused the British of “stealing negroes from their owners.” For his part, Key celebrated the defeat of the British Black contingent in one of the anthem’s verse: “No refuge could save the hireling and slave/From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,”

Seizing upon the controversy about Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling while the anthem is played, as a protest against police brutality, forty-five, and the media have found an opportunity. For patriot Trump, he can divert attention from an investigation to determine whether he or members of his entourage collaborated with one of the country’s enemies. Professional “Negro Whisperers,” Black and White are brought on to debate the issue. CNN hastily, for ratings, throws up a Town Hall, the kind of low-cost event that is guaranteed to make the ratings as Blacks and Whites go at each other.

The president brags that his criticism of football players, mostly Black, has “caught on.” President Trump is fickle when it comes to flags or emblems. He will be for any flag or emblem that gains him applause. A few weeks ago, he was tolerant of the Stars and Bars, which represents a rebellion against the U.S. government and called his swastika bearing Alt Right members “good people.” He claims support of the NASCAR, a largely White car racing sport, whose fans wave the rebel flag and who boo one of the few Black drivers who participates in the sport.

He wants to maintain the statutes of individuals who in their own time were considered traitors with mobs in northern cities shouting for their execution. “Hang Jeff Davis,” was the cry that greeted President Andrew Johnson, an alcoholic bum, when he set out on a goodwill tour after Lincoln’s death. And what is the extent of forty-five’s patriotism? He hasn’t served in a war nor have his spoiled children, and he said that his Vietnam was avoiding STDs.

One of the CNN commentators, a Trump supporter, asked why a demonstration that was conducted by Kaepernick’s spread after Trump’s provocative remarks? Trump has criticized the NFL before. Good question.

Is it because he referred to the mothers of Black players as “bitches,” a taboo in Black culture? Basketball players like Kevin Durant breakdown into sobs at the very mention of their mother’s names. These mothers are often single parents who make extraordinary sacrifices in order that their male children   avoid death at the hands of their misguided peers or by the police. When it came time for my younger brothers to be ambushed by the police, a rite of passage that every Black kid has to traverse, my mother warned the two policemen, who were assigned to harass my younger brothers, that she was a domestic servant in the home of the mayor’s family. They backed off. She was a Southerner before she moved to the North and often Southern Blacks relied upon good White people to protect them from racists.

Mother reverence is also something that is fixed in Black tribal memory. Mother’s Day in Black churches is the most important date on the church’s calendar. Booker T. Washington said that for his White slave-owning father, there was no difference between a cow and his mother.

So, calling Black mothers bitches recalls a time when Blacks were bred and treated like animals. Even White feminist pundits, the only women who are acceptable to the networks, didn’t pick up on this angle of the controversy, which adds to the feeling held by Latina, African American, Native American and Asian American feminists that White feminists have little empathy for their issues. Some of the pundits’ comments might be the reason that Blacks are prone to hypertension. Like the ignorant ESPN commentator who told Black sports commentator Stephen Smith, on the twenty-seventh of September, that the police only kill Black criminals, which doesn’t explain why Blacks of all classes are harassed, including a famous Black tennis star, who is currently in court with the policeman, a member of the NYPD, who tackled him. A case of mistaken identity. Even the Bush administration issued a report proving the existence of Racial Profiling.

Donald Trump doesn’t know about the taboo of calling the Black mothers of Black athletes “bitches” because he doesn’t listen. He didn’t realize that when he called Black mothers by that name, Black athletes had no choice but to kneel.

Of JFK, James Baldwin wrote upon hearing of his death, “You could argue with him. You could talk with him. He was alive. Do you know what I mean? He could hear. He began to see.” This is the reason why the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King. Jr. are enshrined in thousands of Black households.

The United States is undergoing a great cultural upheaval. Voices that have been suppressed for a few hundred years are struggling for visibility. This reassessment of American history is the only way that the curse handed down from the Puritans, people who banned theater and Christmas, can be lifted. And maybe we need a new Anthem as well. Let Stevie Wonder write one!

Copyright© 2017 Ishmael Reed.

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Ishmael Reed is the author of The Complete Muhammad Ali.

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