Every Martin Luther King Day over the last few years, plus as many days as possible during February (Black History Month,) I have been wearing the shirt above and today is no exception. Mine is actually black, in some ways more fitting, but I wish I had seen the version above in wine-red first.
I bought it from the wonderful people at UrbanProfile.com, who also offer a wide range of other African-American themed t-shirts. For the inauguration this year, you could be wearing a shirt with the map of U.S.A. stamped â€œUnder New Managementâ€ for example.
This particular shirt gets some of the strangest looks, not to mention some interesting reactions. This morning while lying down on my chiropractorâ€™s adjustment bed, I noticed him reading the back out loud. He later insisted on reading the front before discussing my ever ongoing need for additional treatment.
Last year, while having breakfast out, a woman behind me couldnâ€™t even wait that long and tapped me on the shoulder to ask if I could turn around for her to see the front!
What is on the back is a 1966 quote from writer James Baldwin. It reads;
America has created a state of mood, which is dangerous for the world. In order to buy and sell men like cattle one had to pretend they were cattle. Being Christian knowing it was wrong; they had to pretend it was not done to men but to animals. What has happened is that America, which use to buy and sell black men, still isnâ€™t sure if they are animals or not.
But the most interesting reactions are usually drawn to the front, be it a supermarket cashier trying to read while avoiding my eyes, an African-American mother with kids being shocked first, then slowly realizing the point and looking up at me proudly and finally a young white dude that wanted to fight me, as he found it offensive.
Front of the shirt has a copy of an advertisement from Charlestown, carrying a date of July 24th, 1769. The text reads:
TO BE SOLD, ON THURSDAY THE THIRD DAY OF AUGUST NEXT, A CARGO OF NINETY-FOUR PRIME, HEALTHY NEGROES, CONSISTING OF THIRTY-NINE MEN, FIFTEEN BOYS, TWENTY-FOUR WOMEN, AND SIXTEEN GIRLS. JUST ARRIVED IN THE BRIGANTINE DEMBIA, FROM SIERRA-LEON, BY DAVID & JOHN DEAS.
I donâ€™t wear the shirt to shock people. I wear it as a reminder. And itâ€™s not just a reminder of look what YOU have done; itâ€™s something we need to remember that many of us have also. For it, still goes on today, in many parts of the world, in many different forms.
Yes, as a nation, the United States needs to be held responsible for many atrocities, including its near annihilation of the first-nations, organized and sanctioned slavery of millions, multiple wars and military campaigns around the globe causing lives, economic catastrophe, famine, disease, and theft of other nationâ€™ resources by force or deceit.
But if we start to hold such high standards, we better be prepared to look in the mirror to examine our own past, review our current conduct and keep an eye on the future.