Kenneth L. Hardin: Flying my racism flag upside down

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 16, 2024

By Kenneth L. Hardin

I had to hold myself back from laughing hysterically after reading about the recent wave of people, who enjoy a privileged position in this society, flying their flags upside down to bring attention to their perceived loss of rights. The reason for my continuous guffaws was that those crying foul are now getting just a small taste of what it’s been like for centuries for Africans in America and other marginalized groups to be denied constitutional rights, freedoms and equitable treatment under the law. The only difference is I don’t recall any skinfolk storming the seat of our democracy to overthrow the government or outright defying established judicial laws and proceedings because things didn’t fall in our favor. So, I offer to all those feeling like they’re being treated like 3/5 of a human, relegated to a lesser citizenship status, denied due process and given no recourse to fight or appeal, pull yourselves up by your bootstraps, let it go, move on, and focus on healing. I mean, can’t we all just get along?

The  U.S. flag code states that it “should never be displayed with the union down except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property,” but my personal racism flag has been flying inverted going back to 1992. This is when I first started becoming consciously aware and publicly vocal about issues of racial hate and division. I recall submitting one of my first editorials to the Salisbury Post 32 years ago on the violence in the wake of the Rodney King verdict, and receiving a call from then editor, Steve Bouser. He politely and respectfully asked me if I would consider revising the opening sentence saying he feared the incendiary statement would encourage similar outbreaks of violence here. After initially refusing and asking if I could have the article printed in full as a paid ad, we agreed on  a more toned-down opening salvo. It was then I knew my racism flag would remain flown upside down with regards to all things surrounding the discussion of hate.

In 1903, scholar and historian W.E.B. Dubois wrote in his book, “The Souls of Black Folk,” that the problem of the 20th century will be the problem of the color line. Over a century later, in 2009, then U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a speech, “Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial, we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, a nation of cowards.” With my 20/30 vision, 121 years after Dubois and 15 years after Holder’s statement, I don’t see that much has changed or improved. Sadly still, I continue to fly my racism flag in violation of the U.S. code. This isn’t because of the number of instances on the news of the fight Africans in America continue to wage for basic humanity, equal access to resources, representation that matters and our desire to enjoy longevity in life. I look back at my life over the last 40 years and recognize the indignities, slights, verbal castigation in personal and professional settings I’ve endured and even being victimized three times with physical assault all based on an aversion to my skin tone. But what has been more disappointing and disheartening is the racially insensitive responses and lack of support I’ve received for my veterans business solely because some view it as being too ethnic.

A high-ranking retired master chief petty officer of color and her veteran husband came to me and shared that after relocating to our county from Virginia, they attempted to join a local American Legion. They were told, “We think you would be more comfortable joining that Black one up there in Salisbury.”  They have since sold their house and moved to South Carolina. Earlier this year, an elderly white couple, who exercises in the West End Plaza, was asked by a volunteer why they don’t come in to visit. They responded, “We were told our American Legion doesn’t support it because it’s too dark in there.” Last week, I was talking with a white supporter who comes in regularly to visit our facility and he shared that he was criticized for doing so because “it’s nothing but a bunch of Black people in there.” We enjoy a racially mixed, very diverse population and I’m proud to admit we’ve never had one incident based on ethnic composition. It’s sad others can’t see our positive mission for being blinded by their own hate.

What’s equally disappointing is that I’ve managed to build a successful business that is followed by over 2 million people quarterly on social media from all across the U.S. and in 20 countries outside of our borders. We’ve established working relationships with 40 businesses and given thousands of dollars in aid and assistance to help homeless veterans, spouses and families of deceased veterans. We’ve been approached by four other N.C. counties asking to bring it to their areas. We’ve received two awards from Charlotte organizations but haven’t been acknowledged or recognized here. Some have made it hard to be in business here. We’ve been visited by federal, state and elected officials from other counties, but there are several elected city and county officials, business leaders, philanthropists, churches and pastors who’ve never stepped one foot inside nor have supported us. The reason is obvious. They don’t understand it’s not about me personally, how you feel about my voice on racism or me as a person of color owning the business. It’s about those who wore the uniform. Our mission is strong and we continue to positively impact veterans lives daily. I’ll continue to fly my racism flag upside down.

 Kenneth L. (Kenny) Hardin is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and founder/owner of the Veterans Social Center.