Like most black households across America, at my great-grandparents' house, you will find a printed portrait of President Obama tucked crookedly in a frame and nestled between a dreaded, black Jesus and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. There might be a bible placed beside them. The one that is just for decoration, as grandma's real bible is older than me and coming apart from fanning it at the preacher and telling him he better take his time. Yeah, that last part triggered me too, but I digress. The best way I can explain this makeshift altar is a humble attempt of our grandparents to stake some claim in a country that has otherwise bastardized them. Despite whatever sacrifices they made, willingly and unwillingly, to this country, it has never given back. And for that reason, we do not owe any slavery condoning anthem as much as a moment of silence.
I remember watching President Obama's first State of the Union Address with my great-grandfather. At 85 years old, a veteran who had served t(his) country overseas, he turned and asked me if I ever thought I would see a black president. Young and naive, I exclaimed how I knew it would only be a matter of time before we had a black person in the White House. I was so lost and confused as to why he even doubted it. It was then that I saw all of his experiences as a second-class citizen come to his face and stick on the back of his tongue. The words that would come out of his mouth next were so heavy that they almost crushed me. "I never thought, in my lifetime or your's, that one of us would sit in that chair". This is a man who risked his life for this nation, who voted in every single election and who watched the news religiously. This conversation would be the turning point in the development of my ideas about race.
It was with the news of Donald Trump's disparaging remarks to the widow of Sgt. La David T. Johnson that brought this experience back to my mind. It was under the facade of patriotism that Trump and his cohorts abused peaceful protesters for kneeling during the national anthem. They ripped up the painful memories of lives lost in senseless wars, to silence and guilt demonstrators into pledging allegiance to a nation that did not care about them. Then, in the midst of Trump yelling hellfire and brimstone, four Americans died in Niger. After about two weeks of silence, and a jab at President Obama, he finally decided to do his duty and contact those American families.
But in true Trump fashion, he proved to be incapable of living up to anything he has said. He would go on to belittle the sacrifice of Sgt. La David T. Johnson by telling his wife that "he knew what he signed up for." Here was a black man, sent back to the continent of his forefathers and foremothers, to die in the name of the very country that stole them. Here was the ultimate sacrifice that Trump deemed worthy of unconditional devotion and allegiance. And yet, Trump refused to acknowledge the humanity of the Black Sgt., his black family or black America.
Sgt. La David T. Johnson will live on as our hero. His struggle and life will be preserved by those who love him, and his undoubtedly complex and internal struggle of serving as a black man in a white man's military will be understood by thousands. Sgt. La David T. Johnson, like my great-grandfather, gave all that he had to this country, hoping that, in return, it would provide for his family. The country would fail both of them.