By Senator Lena C. Taylor
“I will fight for my country, but I will not lie for her.” -Zora Neale Hurston
In 1941, Zora Neale Hurston was working on her autobiography “Dust Tracks on a Road.” As a part of her book, she penned a chapter titled “Seeing the World as It Is.” It was in that chapter that Hurston first said the quote, “I will fight for my country, but I will not lie for her.” The book was being written against the back drop of World War II. As the United States was decrying the actions of Germany’s Adolf Hitle, Hurston was clear about America’s problem with racial inequality. The book’s editor thought the sentiment to controversial and removed the section from the book.
After reading a recent quote from Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Dr. Ben Carson, during an interview on CNN’s State of the Union program, I wanted to send him a copy of Hurston’s work. Carson, who in discussing the recent murder of George Floyd and the protests erupting over the nation, decided he would offer African Americans some advice. Focusing his attention on African American athletes in the National Football League (NFL), Carson told players that they need to come out and say, “‘We love our nation, we are patriots, we love our flag, we honor the memory of those who died to give us our freedom, but, we are protesting some of the brutality that has occurred, and that’s why we’re doing this.’ I think it would solve the problem”.
Simply saying that we should acknowledge “some of the brutality” misses the larger issues that are driving the protests we see around the nation. We need to tell the truth and be honest about the inequities that continue to exist for African Americans in our country. Floyd’s death has put everything on the table: police and corrections reform, education restructuring, access to employment and livable wages, housing and healthcare. We’ve had to be honest about the fact that during COVID-19 “Safer at Home Orders” around the nation, less than 19% of African Americans had jobs that allowed them to work from home.
I will fight for my country, but I will not lie for her.
While we work to preserve our nation’s history, we have to appreciate that 771 Confederate statues are publicly displayed in the nation. These are monuments to men who often upheld slavery and were willing to deeply divide this country over racialized ideology. While we work to heal our nation, we have to be honest about systemic racism and its role in the lives of African Americans. While we work to support law enforcement, we have to be honest about the culture and aspects of policing that have been rooted in slavery.
Originally, in the South, police forces were formed around the preservation of the system of slavery.
A 17-year old girl captured the horrific death of George Floyd with a camera on her cell phone. For many, it was like watching a modern-day lynching and a reminder of slavery. The words of famous photographer Gordon Parks, who documented police brutality when he was commissioned by Life Magazine in 1963, still ring true today: “What the camera had to do was expose the evils of racism, the evils of poverty, the discrimination and the bigotry, by showing the people who suffered most under it.”