*See 1/13/2021 Update below! *
4th of July
Like last year on the 4th of July, it feels right to think about the founding of this country. I consider my birthday a personal new year and a time for self-reflection. Likewise, the birthday of this country is a time to think about the history of the United States — how we can do better now and in the future.
The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. But it wasn’t until five years later, in 1781, when the Massachusetts state legislature became the first to recognize the 4th as an official state celebration recognizing the anniversary of the country’s independence.
Receiving a link to sign a petition prompted me to write this post today, on the 244th birthday of the United States. The petition seeks to change the North Quincy High School mascot from the Yakoo, an offensive caricature that stereotypes Native American culture. I signed the petition and immediately thought about the Massachusetts flag.
When I was in my 20s and working for the state, I remember looking closely at the flag. Previously, I had only noticed the figure of a Native American man standing. But that day, I noticed that there is an arm holding a sword over his head. A sword over his head!
Taking the Indigenous peoples’ land was bad enough. The flag shows the violence of it. Why should this emblem continue representing our state? Should we be proud of this? I am horrified by the symbolism.
The seal, which is on the flag, goes back to circa 1639, when the Massachusetts settlers adopted it. The sword was owned by Myles Standish, known for his violence against Native Americans as a military advisor for the Pilgrims in the Plymouth Colony in the 1620s.
Many say the the original sin in this country was slavery. As an African-American, I can trace my ancestry back to enslaved African-Americas in Virginia and South Carolina. The exact year enslaved Africans arrived to colonies in the Americas is not clear. Some have said 1619. But that seems to reference English colonies. The European slave trade began in the 1400s and Christopher Columbus may have transported enslaved Africans to the Americas in the late 1490s.
However, looking at the time line, Native Americans were here for thousands of years before European colonizers arrived. The theft of their land and the brutality against them was a sin. Slavery was an additional sin and the timelines intertwine.
Further, when people deem the United States a nation of immigrants, that leaves people out. Some of us were already here. Some of us came here unwillingly. We are a nation of immigrants, and Indigenous people and descendants of Africans who were enslaved in the United States. Let’s include us all.
Since we’re at a place in time where symbols of white supremacy continue coming down, it’s well past time to change the Massachusetts flag. Especially as the Trump administration targets the Wampanoag tribe’s land. Is the state of Massachusetts in solidarity with Native Americans or not?
Last year, WGBH reported on the issue and a suggestion for the change could be an easy one. Remove the arm and sword and add a tree. A tree flag was one of the ones used during the American Revolution. Ships sailing from Massachusetts also used the tree flag. So adding a tree would be consistent with Massachusetts history.
Let’s support current legislation (S.1877 & H.2776) and urge the MA Rules Committee to move the Mass Flag and Seal Bill out of committee. Click on the links to send a letter. See a sample letter below.
I am a resident of (city or town), Massachusetts. I am writing in support of (S.1877 / H.2776) the bill to create a special commission, made up of Native leaders of the area now known as Massachusetts and state legislators, to change the state flag and seal of Massachusetts. The time has come to remove the sword that has been hanging over the heads of the Native people of this land for 400 years! This legislation has been stalled for 36 years in the legislature. Even Mississippi is holding bipartisan discussions now to remove the Confederate symbol from its state flag – which would leave Massachusetts as the last flag of white supremacy flying in the country. This image is a disgrace to the progressive traditions of our Commonwealth, an offense to Native people, and to everyone who upholds the value of racial justice for all. Thirty nine Massachusetts cities and towns have already voted at town meeting or city council to change the Massachusetts flag and seal, and an equal number of legislators now co-sponsor S.1877 / H.2776). Please vote favorably to move the legislation to change the Massachusetts flag and seal forward now.
*Updated 7/17/2020* Yesterday, there was a rally by Native American groups in front of the state house in support of this legislation and it generated some media attention. Governor Baker was asked about it during a press conference and stated that he is open to discussion.
*Updated 7/29/2020* There is real momentum behind this issue and the Massachusetts Senate unanimously approved new legislation (S.2848) to create a special commission. Now it’s up to the House and Governor.
*Updated 8/4/2020* North Quincy High School has changed the image of the Yakoo mascot.
*Updated 1/13/2021* Resolve S.2848 was passed! A commission will study the current seal and motto and decide how to go forward. The people in the commission will include descendants of Massachusetts tribes among others. A final report should be submitted by October 1st.
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Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
The exact year I cannot remember. But at some point before 2006, I learned about Juneteenth. At a family gathering here in Massachusetts, my cousin told us about the fun Juneteenth celebrations she went to in Texas. We New Englanders had never heard of it. But learning about it made a big impression. The 4th of July didn’t liberate Black people, so it really wasn’t a day of independence for us. Juneteenth was for us.
I started blogging in 2006 and wrote about Juneteenth that year. After that, I wrote a few more posts about the day. In 2009, my post discussed how the Senate formally apologized to African-Americans for slavery and segregation. Below is part of that post.
The Congress acknowledges the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow laws; apologizes to African-Americans on behalf of the people of the United States, for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow laws; and expresses its recommitment to the principle that all people are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and calls on all people of the United States to work toward eliminating racial prejudices, injustices, and discrimination from our society.
DISCLAIMER.—Nothing in this resolution authorizes or supports any claim against the United States; or serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.
As an African-American who is a descendant of slaves, I accept the apology. It’s not all that can be done. The disclaimer is huge. Reparations are still an issue. But it does have meaning. If nothing else than for the history books.
Eleven years later, Black people in this country continue dealing with injustice, cruelty and brutality. My belief is that until the United States truly reckons with the legacy of slavery, beyond a mere apology, but with formal hearings and reparations, this country will never heal.
However, it’s encouraging seeing more white Americans trying to understand the magnitude of wrongs suffered by Black people. Before change takes place, acknowledgment must happen. It’s starting.
For example, Netflix took down their paywall today for viewers to see Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us” and “13th.” Hulu placed “The Gullah Way” on YouTube for free. I hope many take advantage and watch these shows.
2020 has exceeded all expectations in shining a light on the truth, so that everyone can see society clearly. And the year is only half over. Let’s hope 2021 brings more justice, compassion and kindness.
BAND-AID Brand Adhesive Bandages go all the way back to 1920 and the company has been innovating since.
For example, they introduced clear strip bandages in 1957. Space travel was acknowledged in 1963 and 1969. In 1988, they acknowledged perestroika in Eastern Europe. In 1997, they added antibiotic ointment. Just three years ago, the company improved their bandages to feel like a second skin by expanding and contracting.
Meanwhile, the Civil Rights Movement in the United States took place during the 1950s and 1960s. In 1967, Thurgood Marshall became the first African American to serve as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. In 2008, Barack Obama was elected as the first Black president of the United States.
Just a few days ago, on June 10, 2020, in an Instagram post, Band-Aid, now owned by Johnson & Johnson, stated their commitment “to launching a range of bandages in light, medium and deep shades of Brown and Black skin tones that embrace the beauty of diverse skin.”
Upon learning that bandages would be available in brown and black skin tones, I became livid. I thought, “Really?! Now?! After all this time, they finally acknowledge that Black and Brown people exist!” If you’re looking for an alternative, a Black owned company called Browndages, makes bandages in an assortment of brown shades.
As a child, I wondered why the flesh color bandages were not the color of my skin. I wondered the same about crayons and later about nylons too. Although, I just read that Crayola changed the name of the flesh crayon to peach in 1962.
Whiteness gets the presumption. It feels like a slap in the face for someone with brown skin. It shows the ironic invisibility of Black people, even though we always stand out.
The moment that we’re in right now is a moment of reckoning. Black people want our humanity acknowledged and the current protests are just that.
Certainly it’s a tense and stressful time. White-knuckle is defined as “marked by, causing, or experiencing tense nervousness.”
Do you see where I’m going with this? I could be wringing my hands and stressed as can be, but I will never have a white-knuckle moment. I have brown skin. That term is all about the default color as white and does not acknowledge Black people. Just like the flesh color bandages that were never brown.
So many moments in history Band-Aid could have acknowledged Black people. They acknowledged space travel and even perestroika in Eastern Europe. But overlooked the Civil Rights Movement, the first Black Supreme Court justice and the first Black president.
Maybe the change happened now because the leadership is different than what it was over the last decade. In short, I hope that more white people will look at how they have understood the default race. Look at the characteristics of those deemed “real” Americans. Examine how white privilege has benefited them and think about the range of colors of all people before exclaiming a white-knuckle moment.