It's the Fourth of July again. And as a black man in the South, I feel conflicted.
I’m excited to be able to have a day off and eat some food grilled by a black man wearing a specific type of sandals while playing Frankie Beverly and Maze. But I’m also aware of where I would've been on July 4, 1776.
W.E.B. Du Bois coined the term “double consciousness” for this sensation of constant conflict. It’s comparable to my love of gangsta rap — I know the language and violence is pretty f#!king bad, but I still turn up and sing along to The Chronic. Chris Rock perhaps said it more eloquently, albeit more crassly:
“If you're black, you got to look at America a little bit different. You got to look at America like the uncle who paid for your college, but who molested you.”
Such mixed emotions rise in me as Colin Kaepernick's name comes up again this holiday week, giving both sides of the political aisle tons of fodder.
The saga starts with Nike trying to put out Fourth of July-edition Air Maxes bearing the Betsy Ross version of the American flag (the version with just 13 stars).
Kaep, who last year became the face of Nike's "Just Do It" campaign, objected to the design, saying racist entities use that flag to spew white supremacist messaging. He's not wrong. Last year, fliers were passed out in Upstate New York for the United Northern and Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan emblazoned with an image of a hooded honkey on horseback with a Confederate flag in one hand and the Betsy Ross flag in the other.
People can say that Kaep — and Nike by acquiescing and pulling the shoes — are blowing it out of proportion, that the flag is an inexorable part of American history. And they’re not wrong, either.
The ensuing flap found people like Republican Texas Senator Ted Cruz joining the fracus: “Yes, I own lots of @Nike...But now I've decided their shoes represent disdain for the American flag,” he tweeted.
Let's not even start with what kind of Nikes Cruz wears — or maybe let’s: I say Air Monarchs, the shoes of choice for any white person calling the cops when they don't think people of color should barbecue at a public park or be allowed at the pool at the apartment complex because they obviously don't live there.
It’s difficult to talk about such things, especially on July 4. We have to acknowledge that American history drips with racism and tons of s#!t many would like to forget.
The same national anthem during which Kaep quietly knelt before NFL games has a dark history. Francis Scott Key's “The Star Spangled Banner” has a third stanza that is mostly omitted, probably because of its racist shade: “No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.”
This line brings up the disdain Scott had for the Corps of Colonial Marines, black enslaved men recruited by the British and promised freedom for fighting for the crown. Key was captured by this unit during the War of 1812. As a slave owner, he didn't like it.
“The Star Spangled Banner” is just the tip of the troubling history that Independence Day stirs up. Founding father Thomas Jefferson enslaved more than 600 people, and had children with one of them, Sally Hemings. When it’s said that Jefferson had a “long-term relationship” with her, it's totally inaccurate: You can’t have a relationship with people you own.
But Jefferson also penned the Declaration of Independence, which remains a remarkable document — even if that whole “all men are created equal” bit doesn’t jive with his actions.
Ultimately, this is less about shoes and more to do with how difficult it is to live with such contradictions as the ones embodied by Jefferson.
Let’s be clear: All the public outrage is great for Nike and even for Kaep. Even as I embrace Kaep's protests, I still feel weird that Nike found a way to monetize black pain. But good or bad, I'm still wearing Jordans.
As a black man, living in America is a lot like wearing Jordans — taking the good even though it comes with a ton of baggage.
“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious, is to be in a rage almost all the time,” James Baldwin once wrote
Can you be woke and enjoy your Independence Day barbecue? Maybe. Let's ask our Native American friends how they enjoy turkey on Thanksgiving.