The nerve of Ted Cruz, (R-Senator-Texas) taking to Twitter on the Fourth of July whitesplaining Frederick Douglass to humanist and former professional football player Colin Kaepernick. Cruz created a twitter storm among white conservatives after Kaepernick successfully convinced Nike, the giant tennis shoe manufacturer, not to roll out a Betsy Ross flag sneaker for Independence Day.
After Nike’s announcement they were pulling the sneaker, Kaepernick posted a one-minute video on his Twitter page. On the video, Kaepernick quotes the 19th-century freedom fighter’s 1852 address to the Rochester Anti-Slavery Sewing Society on July 5th.
As Douglass’ words roll on the video, pictures of the horrors of slavery interspersed with deadly images of 21st-century police violence against the African American community are poignantly displayed.
In this 1852 address, Douglass fired up a group of white society women. These women were impressed with what Douglass said that day. Susan F. Porter, President of the Rochester Anti-Slavery Sewing Society, wrote him and requested that Douglass, a newspaper publisher, provide her sewing society with 100 copies in pamphlet format. Porter wanted to distribute them as the sewing society pushed their husbands and others to get involved in the movement to abolish slavery in the United States of America.
Porter’s interest in a written version of the speech Douglass gave on this occasion can be credited with the fact that his significant words did not die in the rafters of the assembly hall that day but lived to guide us today.
Douglass spoke at length to the women. It was a far-ranging talk on the subject: “What to the Slave is your Fourth of July.”
Douglass’ speech on this day became the Declaration of Independence for Black people in America. Black Americans cherish the Douglass oration as much as white Americans cherish the declaration of the founders.
This salient fact that “What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?” is a call for equal justice under the law for Black Americans is the first thing that Cruz, in the world view of a privileged white man, fails to understand in his attempt to take Kaepernick to the woodshed.
Cruz arrogantly supposes that Kaepernick lacks context for his statement, while nothing could be further from the truth. Kaepernick’s video stands for the proposition that the Betsy Ross flag is flawed because it honored a nation that at the time was building itself on the backs of enslaved labor, while it professed liberty and justice for all. Kaepernick’s video is the exact message Douglass so eloquently and powerfully delivered to the Rochester Anti-Slavery Sewing Society 76 years after the founding of America.
What Cruz fails to understand is that 167 years after Douglass uttered these words, the situation for Africans living in America today still needs to have a fearless freedom fighter speak those words of truth to power.
First, Cruz twitted that Kaepernick’s utterance on this subject will confuse modern readers.
How can this be?
Are not the madding conservative crowd aware that slavery ended with the end of the Civil War in 1865?
More importantly, are conservative white Americans not mindful of the continuation of slave-like treatment at the hands of police officers endured by Africans living in America similar to violent acts under the Fugitive Slave Act?
One could assume that most of Cruz’s followers have no clue to who Douglass was, why he spells his last name with two ss, much less his importance to preserving the unity of the United States during enslavement, the Civil War, and the aftermath of that war. A case in point, the current President of the USA a year ago thought Douglass was still alive.
The Texas Senator argues that since enslavement ended in the 19th century Kaepernick’s position on the government’s mistreatment of people of color is out of place in the 21st century and non-analogous with the treatment of Black people on these shores from 1619 through 1865.
However, Kaepernick’s point is precisely the opposite. Kaepernick contends that the rising number of Black men who have died at the hands of a white police officer is equivalent to the mistreatment of Africans in this country in 1852, thus the need to remind the country, the red states and the blue states of America, of the dichotomy of equality America preaches and the injustice she practices.
Secondly, while Cruz praises the advocacy of Douglass as the gallant action of an excellent Black American, he intimates that Kaepernick’s courageous stand is Anti-American. Cruz proves once again; it is easier to applaud the heroic efforts of men and women of the past but to act quite to the contrary when today’s freedom fighters are agitating to bring about justice for all in contemporary society.
If Cruz was sincere in his approval of Douglass’ comments to the sewing ladies in 1852, then why has he not moved to free the brown children held captive in Texas by the federal government?
Why then, will Cruz not join the fight to reign in the quick-triggered police officers patrolling American streets?
Third, Cruz fails to realize the horrible conditions Douglass pointed out 176 years ago makes the perfect case for reparations. One wonders if the Senator will append Douglass’ speech to the congressional committee’s report now studying reparation, or move to have every member of Congress to read it or have it read at the beginning of every congressional term until compensation for African descendants of American slaves is the law of the land.
How can Cruz look any Black person in the face and harbor the thought that the country owes them nothing when he reads the words of Douglass on “The Internal Slave-Trade:”
“Behold the practical operation of this internal slave trade, the American slave-trade, sustained by American politics and American religion. Here you will see men and women, reared like swine, for the market.”
Then Douglass added, “Attend the auction see men examined like horses; see the form of women rudely and brutally exposed to the shocking gaze of American slave-buyers.”
No reparations for this shameful, brutal, and dehumanizing treatment?
Cruz, lack for lack of a less flattering word, please!
If you believe in the words of Douglass, fight for the people that Douglass fought to free from fugitive slave chasers, their modern-day cohorts are border patrol officers and ice agents on your border in Texas and gun-toting police officers on American streets.
The scenes depicted in Kap’s video does not play out today, Cruz posits, but one shatters to think how Brown boys and girls are treated down at the Rio Grande under a President who tears babies from their mother’s arms and forces children to sleep on cold concert floors.
This violence and uncaring for human life at the southern border and in the ghettos all beg the questions: America, whose “country tis’ of thee,” where are they liberty?
As Douglass said in that tremendous Black Declaration of Independence, “…America is false to its past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future…,” as evidenced by Cruz’s rejection of Kaepernick’s plea that police violence perpetrated against Black men and women must immediately cease.
Cruz, since you read this 1852 speech, draw your attention to the section on Religious Liberty, a topic talked about in the 21st century. For centuries, those who wished to control the people have resorted to Religious Liberty Legislation. Speaking on religious liberty laws in his day, Douglass said:
“I take this law (Fugitive Slave Law) to one of the grossest infringements of Christian Liberty, and, if the churches and ministers of our country were not stupidly blind, or most wickedly indifferent, they too would so regard it.”
Needlessly to say, Cruz knows a thing or two about being “stupidly blind” or “wickedly indifferent” in turning his back on Trump’s immigration policy.
For instance, systems that hold asylum seekers in cages, separate children from their parents, sow division among white Americans and Americans of color and remain quiet in the face of questionable executive usurpation of power and possible criminality.
Read on, and Douglass addresses “The Church Responsibility.”
“But the church in this country is not only indifferent to the wrongs of the slave (Black men in police custody in 21 century America), it takes sides with the oppressors. It has made itself the bulwark of American slavery (police brutality in contemporary society), and the shield of the American slave-hunter (trigger happy policeman circa 2019). Many of the most eloquent Divines (Franklin Graham), who stand as the very lights of the church, have shamelessly given the sanction of religion, and the Bible, to the whole slave system” (police brutality).
By the way Cruz, you got the closing wrong too. After Douglass spoke of the inevitable doom of slavery, as you pointed out, he went on to close by saying: “Africa must rise and put on her yet unwoven garment.”
With this verse, Douglass passes down a clarion call to the ages, for people of Africa like Colin Kaepernick, to rise up while yet weaving the garment of freedom. This Kaepernick has done and is doing, your protestation to the contrary.
Kaepernick’s quote of Douglass’ July 1852 speech is clearly on the mark in heightening the contradiction between who America professed to be in 1776 and who she has shown herself to be to people of color for the past 243 years.
Harold Michael Harvey is an American novelist and essayist. Harvey is a Past President of the Gate City Bar Association. He is the recipient of Gate City’s R. E. Thomas Civil Rights Award, which he received because of his pro bono representation of students arrested during Freaknik celebrations in the mid to late 1990s. He is a Contributor at The Hill, SCLC National Magazine, Southern Changes Magazine, Medium, and Black College Nines. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org