28 My House is Not Your Home: Briefly Examining Race-Based Rhetoric Through a History of American Revolutionary Movements

Kaylah Cook

Even when there’s nothing there but gloom

But a room is not a house and a house is not a home

When the two of us are far apart

And one of us has a broken heart…

Performed by Dionne Warwick[1]

 

Should you have been a witness to America’s political unrest of recent years, you’re likely to remember the following statement,

Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say “get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired.” [loud cheering and applause] he’s fired![2]

 

What is primarily relevant about this quote is its rhetorical context, which involves the deep philosophical hypocrisy embedded in the minds of the speaker and the likes of. What was found to be blasphemous by the speaker was NFL players kneeling in lieu of standing during a performance of The Star-Spangled Banner,[3] also known as, the National Anthem. What was dismissed in this criticism was the true-to-democracy exercise of protest, which also happened to be a familiar protest that has been repeated since this country’s inception, namely, the protest against the violation of civil human rights. In 2017, Black NFL players used kneeling during performances of The Star-Spangled Banner to protest tyrannical police violence against Black American citizens. Standing during this performance may display respect and honor toward the national pride achieved by the events depicted in the ballad, hence the reasons found by these players for losing such pride. What pride could they have? While walking in fear under the shadow of “our flag,” and the same flag that burned and buried so many like them. This country’s 45th president did not want to understand the foundation of facts that exist in the American reality, facts like the existence of Lift Every Voice and Sing[4], also known as the Black National Anthem. These two anthems, one for America and one for Black America, depict how national pride within the U.S does not rest in the same place. There is a racial divide in the United States that has created separate houses for its citizens, and therefore, separate homes.

 

As a witness to the ongoing epidemic loss of Black lives in the U.S due to sustained White supremacist structures, it has become apparent to me that Black Americans cannot experience revolutionary quality changes for Black America until this country’s ideological and economic resources equally belong to them as they do the superior class of White Americans. The term revolution is pertinent to this analysis, for America’s pride comes from revolutionary ideals that have been historically shown to have limited application. The following sections further explicate this argument by reminding the reader (and the author) who the Black American is to America, and who America is to the Black American. Together we may piece together the process of achieving true revolution by starting with the political origin of the Black American and landing where a home may be found, where we have never belonged.

 

Africans of America

 

Consider asking yourself, how is “African American” a legitimate racial category? Both “African” and “American” are terms of nationality, so why is African American the politically correct racial category for Black Americans? I for one, as a Black American, am not against the use of the term African Americans, however, I acknowledge certain implications that aren’t present in the politically correct use of the term. I realize that I am African American because my ancestry does not originate in this country, yet, neither do the ancestors of White Americans. Acknowledging where my ancestry originates simultaneously considers how it arrived at this country, so naming our race “African American” also sustains the racial inception of the Black American through chattel slavery. When the U.S was founded, citizenship and humanity were inherent to a select group, and still, in 2021 it’s slowly being granted to others based on cryptic definitions of the American citizen and the objective human. When the United States of America experienced its revolution against Britain, it involved, beyond violence, redefining the ideals that governed. Political democracy and economic freedom were born, which made a new home for some. For the others that just so happened to also be housed by this home, measures were put in place to ensure the difficulty of the U.S becoming an equally comfortable home. Beyond comfort, this house for many Black and Indigenous Americans has been a hell. Making this hell a home would require a new revolution, a new redefining of the ideals that govern us, a new right to humanity that truly anyone can claim. Concisely put, the black American revolution, unlike the African one, must be the creation of a new social structure for America. The African revolts were designed to replace the whites in the politico-social framework of the colony, whereas the black rebellion in America must create a totally new framework. For the black African, decolonization is the process of regaining the power which was once his, but the black American is trying to acquire the power he has never had.[5]

 

The Moral Ultimatum for this Country’s Future

 

One less bell to answer

One less egg to fry

One less man to pick up after

I should be happy

But all I do is cry

Performed by Dionne Warwick[6]

 

 

Reparation, noun [7]

: the act of making amends, offering expiation, or giving satisfaction for a wrong or injury

 

With 156 years between the ratification of the 13th amendment and the recent roaring protests against police violence against minorities, it begs to question (or at least I beg to question myself), will reparations for Black Americans ever exist? Some might consider the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments as our reparations, and some from this group might also include government assistance programs as a settlement for lower-class minorities, but this argument easily falls to a simple response: how?

 

How could these amendments serve as our reparations, when Black slaves went from working fields to prisons, Black citizens were tortured and arrested for proclaiming their civil rights bestowed to “every” citizen, and Black voters are to the day of 2021 being suppressed from contributing their democratic power? Many of us have examined our cyclical situation of oppression in the country as intentional because it is hard to see otherwise when we have yet to witness consistent acknowledgement of our oppressions from our oppressors. If we have already experienced our revolution, if we have already made amends, I for one, wonder why the bare minimum of surviving is still a hope for so many of us here. Our protests are performed in political spaces, but the passions that fuel them are born through humanitarian causes. To the politician, a human that protests is a disturbed cog in the system, making noise that could easily be silenced, but to the human, protesting to restore and sustain humanity is a survival effort which prioritizes the human before the system no matter what.

 

Opposition to this kind of protest has reached this country’s highest office more than once, which is a tell-tale sign of the conflict keeping this country divided, a conflict that is not about political and ideological difference, but rather a conflict rooted in efforts to sustain and protect privileges obtained without moral integrity and competing efforts to sustain and protect the human existence that suffers as a result. The national pride of the “American” is equivalent to the pride of the American revolutionary, who is a victor of the fight for complete freedom. The Black National Anthem claims that Black Americans must continue to march until this same victory is won for them as well. If Black or African Americans have yet to win, then so does every American, whether they be Black, Indigenous, Asian, Latinx, or White.

 


 

Works Cited

 

Francis Scott Key. The Star-Spangled Banner, 1814.

 

Lift Every Voice and Sing, 1899.

“Reparation.” In Merriam-Webster, n.d.

Ricks, Timothy. “BLACK REVOLUTION: A Matter of Definition: NOTE REFERENCES.”

The American Behavioral Scientist (Pre-1986) 12, no. 4 (April 1969): 21.

RSN. “Trump to Anthem Protesters: ‘Get That Son of a b—- off the Field,’” September 22, 2017. https://www.nbcsports.com/bayarea/49ers/trump-anthem-protesters-get-son-b-field.

Warwick, Dionne. A House Is Not a Home, 1964.

———. One Less Bell to Answer, 1972.

[1] Dionne Warwick, A House Is Not a Home, 1964.

[2] “Trump to Anthem Protesters: ‘Get That Son of a b—- off the Field,’” RSN (blog), September 22, 2017, https://www.nbcsports.com/bayarea/49ers/trump-anthem-protesters-get-son-b-field.

[3] Francis Scott Key, The Star-Spangled Banner, 1814.

[4] Lift Every Voice and Sing, 1899.

[5] Timothy Ricks, “BLACK REVOLUTION: A Matter of Definition: NOTE REFERENCES,” The American Behavioral Scientist (Pre-1986) 12, no. 4 (April 1969): 21.

[6] Dionne Warwick, One Less Bell to Answer, 1972.

[7] “Reparation,” in Merriam-Webster, n.d.

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Rhetoric in Everyday Life by Kaylah Cook is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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