When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
On July 9, 1776, in Lower Manhattan, a riotous group of armed white militiamen went apeshit after hearing these words for the first time. The belligerent thugs destroyed property and tore down a statue. It was a legendary act of defiance that inspired a movement.
It didn’t change anything, though.
This meaningless but symbolic protest was organized by activists who historians called a “grassroots group of instigators and provocateurs...who used an extreme form of civil disobedience—threats, and in some cases actual violence.” This spontaneous outburst of “fuck this shit” did not have a profound effect on the outcome of the American Revolution. But these Sons of Liberty who rioted at the first reading of the Declaration of Independence would eventually become known by another, more compelling name:
The Founding Fathers.
Like the Sons of Liberty, The Milwaukee Bucks’ refusal to play a basketball game will not give us liberty. It will not rewind the seven bullets that pierced Jacob Blake’s back as his children watched in horror. The demonstration will not have any effect on the disproportionate murders of Black people at the hands of police.
Yet people want to know why the NBA players decided to say “fuck your couch, nigga.” Was it an act of defiance? Was it intended to spark change? What will happen next? Or, as another great patriot put it more succinctly:
I can explain it.
After Julia Jackson’s son, Jacob Blake, was gunned down in front of her grandchildren, she called for peace and justice. The Kenosha, Wis., address where Blake shed his blood is less than 40 miles from where Milwaukee police officers attacked and tasered Bucks player Sterling Brown, who goes to work every night with the city’s name across his chest. How can they do this?
The answer is simple.
You cannot be Black in America without a sense of idealism and hope for this country. Even the most obstinately “woke” among us must tacitly admit it. We do not trust in the common good of mankind or that the moral arc of the universe bends toward righteousness. And, because this country starts whittling the candy-coated optimism of youth down to a bitter nub from the moment a Black child emerges from the protection of the womb, most of us stopped placing our hope in the benevolence of white men long ago. There isn’t a sliver of evidence in the majestic mountains or the amber waves of grain that allows us to believe that white people will ever do what’s right.
All our lives, we had to fight.
In the last 244 years, one month and twenty-two days, no one has sacrificed their safety, well-being and their lives to perfect this union more than Black Americans. This is our shit. Not only did our ancestors build this country by investing blood and brow-sweat, but they are also the only group in our nation’s history who did this without the expectation of receiving dividends.
White men love America like birds love their wings.
When the Kaepernick-hating flag-zealots wax poetic about the troops and the anthem, they are not talking about the Constitution or the pile of dirt fertilized with discarded black bodies. They are displaying their affection for the status quo partially built on the birthright privilege of whiteness. They pretend to love the goose but it’s actually the golden eggs that they are defending.
Not only did the white men (who I must admit, helped a little) build a land of limitless opportunity for themselves, they did it only for themselves. That’s not patriotism, that’s selfishness. Those white tea-tossers may have thought that all men are created equal, but they never endowed “all men” with life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness. Most of the men who signed that riot-inducing document were slave owners. They were willing to take up arms against the mightiest army on the planet but refused to fight for actual “liberty and justice for all.”
We did that.
We keep doing that.
And, as that Dear John letter states: “In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury.”
We fought in their wars while not having access to the democracy we built. Our tax dollars funded their whites-only institutions while we languished in a separate and unequal America. We composed the rhythms they dance to and the paved the paths to their prosperity. We are the invisible “God” who shed his grace on this nation. If there is ever liberty and justice for all, it will be because black people manifested it with our magic.
We are no angrier than we were last week or last month or last Trayvon or last Sandra. We are as tired as we were when Breonna bit the bullet or when George gave up the ghost. This country would collapse upon itself if we ever sat down and acknowledged our weariness. If we were ruled by anger, the blood from white throats would create an actual crimson tide.
So, if you are wondering why the Milwaukee Bucks decided to give a middle finger to a game of sportsball while sequestered in a bubble that protects them from the whims of a white supremacist who ignores their genocide, I’ll tell you. If you wonder why they decided to let this country marinate in its injustice—if only for a microsecond—it is not because they think their protest will somehow lead to change. If you really want to know why we keep loving this country that refuses to love us back, here is your answer:
Because all those death-cult defenders are just monuments and we are the true patriots. Because we are better than them. Because we built this motherfucker.
Because we love America more than they do.
Because love is all we have.
Oh, Doc, there is no reason to cry.
Can’t you see?
The greatest of these is love.