In the wake of the George Zimmerman acquittal, Weezy’s video for “God Bless Amerika” is timely.
by Monica Miller,
Lost in the recent aftermath of the George Zimmerman verdict and clutter of rap releases from J. Cole, Mac Miller, Kanye West and Jay Z, Lil’ Wayne managed to get in the news for something other than vulgar historical comparisons. Lil Wayne was back in America’s hot seat when charged with desecrating a United States flag when shooting the video for “God Bless Amerika” back in June. In response, Wayne reported that the flag stomping was not on purpose.
The final video, released to seemingly coincide with the Zimmerman verdict, didn’t include the flag-stomping moment. While Zimmerman’s trial and acquittal rightfully overshadowed this flag controversy, Zimmerman’s trial and Wayne’s song “God Bless Amerika” have more in common than many might think.
Desecration or not, the flag incident ends up a strange foreshadowing of a song and music video that all but suggests the United States is a desecrating machine, systematically producing and hiding the reality of life in Hollygrove, New Orleans, and many other places around the country by worrying more about symbols than people. And it’s not just the [American] flag that Weezy seems to be criticizing in “God Bless Amerika” – the song draws attention to “ole’ godless Amerika” – a similar sentiment many find themselves making and raising in the wake of the Trayvon Martin tragedy.
As depicted in the song, the American flag symbolizes a veil, obscuring and hiding the faces and needs of those hidden and deemed less important than the symbol itself. Now I want to ask what might initially seem an outlandish idea. Could it be that the veil of the flag has a counterpart in the very idea of god? From the beginning, Zimmerman assumed that god was, and had been, on his side from the very moment of Trayvon Martin’s murder. Lest we forget, his surly statement to Sean Hannity was that it was “God’s plan” that Martin be shot and killed. In other words, Martin used the idea of God as a veil, helping him to not see the humanity of Trayvon. In light of the release of “God Bless Amerika” and the calamity that is Zimmerman’s acquittal and Martin’s tragic death, it seems to me that the flag and symbol of god deserve critique and examination.
While we’ve been primarily occupied with critiquing the “flag” a la the failings of American justice post-Trayvon, we’ve been slow to critique the culpability of uses of god throughout this trial. But some have taken the risk. In a recent Religion Dispatches article, University of Pennsylvania religious studies professor Dr. Anthea Butler suggests that the American god is a white racist, she writes, “God ain’t good all of the time. In fact, sometimes, god is not for us.”
“I know that this American god ain’t my god. As a matter of fact, I think he’s a white racist god with a problem. More importantly, he is carrying a gun and stalking young Black men,” she continued. Butler has come under vehement criticism for publishing this piece, some calling on the university to fire her and others spewing venomous hate over the interwebs, which includes calling her a “n—-r.” She has cataloged these vile sentiments here.
Whether it is a desecrated flag, a racist god, or the vindication of white guilt, public reactions to such claims highlight stark divides in America today. It all depends on where you stand. Case in point: Watch the first few seconds of the video. Now watch the official video. Viewed together, could there ever really be a moment when the humanity of America’s poor and underserved is privileged in a way that would not “desecrate” the flag, call into question America’s god and anger scores of patriotic, god-fearing Americans in the process? Weezy and Dr. Butler are repping for those who get ignored when people worry more over patriotism and the nation – and dare I say god and belief – than those who suffer disproportionately from abuse of these things.
Both patriotism and religion have been used to hide people of color’s concerns from the purview of whites and others for a long, long time. Slavery didn’t end soon enough and one justification was that it wasn’t in the best interest of the country, a flag waving in front of black people. Another common belief was that slavery was in the bible, so it was justified, amounting to worship of the white god. Segregation got started and didn’t end for nearly 100 years because the powers that be cared more for the flag and god-sanctioned apartheid than they did about the people underneath and behind those symbols.
The song behind the video, “God Bless Amerika,” leaves us with a hunch that Weezy’s steps on the flag may have been accidental, but not exactly avoidable. He raps:
“The stars on the flag are never shining
Uh, I saw a butterfly in hell today
Will I die or go to jail today?”
Trayvon’s murder is reflective of the fixed options too many in this nation face: physical death or social death. Dr. Butler’s assessment of the American god in light of disproportionate injustice and Weezy’s question of “Where are we today?” are more timely and relevant than ever. Butler and Weezy are part of a long and continued chorus of voices willing to push against America’s most cherished symbols in order to show us the faces of the ones — the black, brown (and even white) folks — that stand behind the flag.
Dr. Monica R. Miller is Assistant Professor of Religion and Africana Studies at LehighUniversity and among other publications, author of Religion and Hip Hop.