What We Choose to Remember

Josh Howard of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks has been in the news this week for disrespecting the national anthem over summer. The clip has been bouncing around YouTube.

Howard has been roundly criticized and denounced, reminded that he owes so much to this country, a country that has allowed him to earn millions of dollars at his profession. But many African Americans agree with Howard. African American citizenship is still problematic, unsettled, in question. Howard’s comments emerge from a discourse of opposition that has been a central theme of African American resistance and counter memory. Expressions of Black anger, of Black critique of the mainstream narrative of the U. S. troubles the plantation,the quarters and the big house. Americans, black and white, don’t like to remember.

Michel-Rolph Trouillot, discussing Bourdieu’s concept of the unthinkable explains, “The unthinkable is that which one cannot conceive within the range of possible alternatives, that which perverts all answers because it defies the terms under which the questions were phrased”. He goes on to explain that this exactly describes the Haitian Revolution and the ongoing silences about that revolution. It is a silence that continually muffles discourses of black Resistance, erased from mainstream discourse and often relegated to legend or “mere rhetoric” in black communities.

Toussaint L’Ouverture, Jean Jacques Dessalines, Henri Christophe, these men and the men and women they led saw themselves as rising to their historic roles in a revolutionary period, actors in the Caribbean phase of the French Revolution. Revolutionary France was ultimately unable to come to terms with African freedom in the Caribbean and under Napoleon attempted to reinstate slavery. The Haitian defeat of France, and England, and Spain in their attempts to fill the vacuum left by the French, shook the slave-ocracy of the young American republic. But the U.S. had its own problems, its own history of uprisings, its own grumbling slaves and natives. Theirs are the silenced narratives. They make Americans uncomfortable. They should. Josh Howard is a reminder, including his comments about the Obama campaign. How will Obama’s campaign and possible presidency be used to regulate African American dissent from the mainstream? Not everyone is drinking the kool-aid. “No, I’m not an American. I’m one of the 22 million black people who are the victims of Americanism…I’m speaking as a victim of this American system…And I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don’t see any American Dream; I see an Amercan nightmare.” from The Ballot or the Bullet, delivered April 3, 1964 in Cleveland, Ohio.

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