If your childhood memories are of the United States during the 1950s, you probably remember Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” In this Danish short story, a vain emperor is tricked into purchasing an invisible set of fine clothing that can be seen only by the virtuous. So impressed was the emperor with what he believed to be his new clothes, he donned them and paraded through the streets naked.
If you are a child of the ‘50s, you also grew up on a diet of Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett, John Wayne’s Western heroes and Joe McCarthy’s anti-communist rants.
This was the time when the United States went from being “One nation with liberty and justice for all” to “One nation ‘UNDER GOD’ with liberty and justice for all,” when Congress changed the wording of the Pledge of Allegiance to distinguish ourselves from the “godless” Russians.
It was a time when little boys were encouraged to cheer as loudly for cowboys that slaughtered Indians as they did for Tarzan as he vanquished African savages.
By the time the “50s rolled around, America had defeated the Nazis, laid low imperial Japan and could do no wrong.
It was also a time when little girls were encouraged to prepare to marry the sons of these conquering heroes – and do little else.
Children of color stood on the sidelines watching this parade of American glory go marching by while being forced to swallow our daily dose of humiliation. We knew that taxes were taken from our parents’ hard-earned wages to build municipal swimming pools that we were forbidden to enjoy. We also watched our parents pay taxes to build grand public schools that we were not allowed to enter.
We knew that if you were Black, Latinx, Asian or from the First Nations, America wanted to crush you.
White kids didn’t have to walk in our shoes, so most did not know how crippling it was to be hobbled by bigotry and racial hatred. Many believed that our inability to walk as they did was our fault, and dispositive proof of our laziness, stupidity and low morals.
In the years since America’s “greatest generation” strutted home from World War II, the people of this nation have been fed a steady diet of lies telling us that the United States is clothed in “equal justice,” the “rule of law” and “American exceptionalism.” These lies became the norm because anyone who questioned them was accused of being unpatriotic, ungrateful or a communist.
White America did not bother to turn off their TVs, open their blinds and look out the windows of their split-level homes to see that beyond the boundaries of their segregated planned communities, people of color were being gunned down in the streets in the name of law enforcement. They did not see that the harsh drug laws landing darker youths in prisons were being bent or ignored when it came to their children. And they rolled their eyes at the news of corrupt politicians overseas, while ignoring the fact that American businesses and American foreign policies were doing the corrupting.
It’s been a grand American parade these past several decades, full of loud noise, strutting heroes, shiny objects and a display of wealth. America proclaims it has become a global empire – something to admire and make your heart beat faster.
But America is not clothed in its imagined virtues at all. Like the naked emperor America has been conned into buying a lie, wrapped in the protection of fear. In Hans Christian Andersen’s story, no one dared point out that the emperor wore no clothes for fear of being accused of lacking virtue. Few Americans dare to point out our country’s failings for fear of being branded unpatriotic – and we need look no further than former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick to see the reality of this danger.
This country is as vile, corrupt and disgusting as Donald Trump.
We are a nation full of bigots ruled by bigots – a country of greedy grasping materialists who would destroy the very planet on which we live for the sake of a few more shiny things. And we abuse and kill our fellow humans for these same reasons.
The world sees America for what it is – a naked Donald Trump strutting down Main Street to the beat of victorious music playing only in his head. And if we do not bring an end to this vile parade, we will deserve the condemnation that we receive.
Oscar H. Blayton is a former Marine Corps combat pilot and human rights activist who practices law in Virginia.