Each February, during Black History Month, I am introduced to many historical facts about the Afrikan diaspora and am consequently more politically reflective than usual. It occurred to me this year that the great Malcolm X died in February (1965) and two of my heroes; my father Robert O’Bryant (February 2nd), and the consummate orator Frederick Douglass (Valentines Day), were born in the month of February.
This February has been particularly snowy and frigid. I haven’t had a lot of incentive to leave the house, so I’ve been more involved with reading, writing and social media. I have limited my TV watching to the news and prime time network shows. I don’t have cable, so I rely on an HD antennae to bring erratic signals to my flat screen. When I turned on the news at 11 am this morning, the transmission on Fox2 was too distorted to watch. I began channel surfing and discovered the story “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” about artist and political activist Ai Weiwei on the local PBS station. As I watched in horror as Ai was beaten, hospitalized and later arrested, I was moved by this passionate man and his courage of convictions; a man who like Malcolm and Frederick Douglas was willing to die for what he believed. His courage, as he publicly confronted the brutal policeman that tried to bash his head in a dark hotel room, was reminiscent of footage I have viewed of men and women in the early civil rights movement here in America.
As I was watched his story, I realized that I take my autonomy as an American for granted. I exercise ‘freedom of expression’ effortlessly and without reproach. Ai Weiwei and millions worldwide have been beaten, maimed, imprisoned and murdered simply for expressing their points of view! That revelation inspired me to write this post.
At this point in my life, I am proud to express my love of my country because of what I have come to know understand about oppression in other parts of the globe. I know full well, as a large black man, from one of the most racially divided regions in the country, that America has social issues that are as prevalent in the twenty-first century as they were 100 years ago. I am not politically naive, as I witness the acrimony that Barack Obama must endure, as the first acknowledged black president. I harbor no illusions about life in America, but as I compare my life to Ai Weiwei and Nelson Mandala, who were imprisoned because of their beliefs, or Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head for detailing her life of oppression to “outsiders”, I understand that I live in the greatest country in the world!