The question of African Americans and their rising levels of patriotism towards America have been creeping up in the news lately. In this recent article in The Washington Post, law students concurred that since the election of our nation’s first black president the patriotic enthusiasm of blacks has risen substantially.
In Obama, African Americans See Promise of 1776 Fulfilled
By Robert Mccartney
As the nation prepares to celebrate its first Fourth of July with a black president, I wondered whether African Americans are feeling more patriotic. So I talked with some students in a summer school class at Howard University, one of the country’s most time-honored black colleges.
I was not disappointed. The African American journalism students agreed overwhelmingly that Barack Obama’s election has strengthened blacks’ enthusiasm for our nation and trust in the democratic ideals we will honor Saturday. (Of course, African Americans, like everybody else, view the holiday primarily as a chance to gobble barbecue, watch fireworks and stalk holiday bargains at the mall, but that’s a separate issue.)
Obama’s victory “represented the idea that America was changing for the better,” said Charnese Wilson, 21, a senior from Detroit. “My peers, that’s what they’re celebrating, the evolution of America.”
The patriotism of African Americans as a group has never been in question. They have fought honorably in the nation’s wars and sometimes have suffered disproportionately high casualties.
But African Americans tend to love their country more for what it has promised — especially on July 4 — than for what it has delivered. That’s hardly surprising, given nearly 21/2 centuries of slavery, followed by another century of segregation and, despite progress, continuing discrimination and disproportionate economic hardship.
Sure enough, the Howard students had plenty to say about how hypocrisy has corrupted American ideals. Thomas Jefferson wrote the famous words “all men are created equal,” but he was a plantation owner who once said that living without slaves would be an “inconvenience.”
Deontay Morris, 19, a junior from Detroit, expressed contempt for the Founding Fathers because of their “horrible legacy” as slaveholders. “I’m pretty sure George Washington didn’t want Barack Obama to be president,” he said tartly.
A moment later, though, Morris praised the Declaration of Independence as “one of the best documents ever written, because it’s evolving over time.” That’s the key to understanding how the Spirit of 1776 has led to a black president whose election adds to African Americans’ faith, or at least their hope, that the country will keep its pledges of equality and liberty.
When the United States was founded, the word “democracy” had a negative connotation, because it was associated with mob rule. Only white men with property could vote.
But “all men are created equal” has proved powerful over the years. It inspired successful efforts to extend the vote to poor white men during the Age of Jackson in the early 1800s. Lincoln quoted it as he led the country to abolish slavery. Suffragists added “and women” when women won the right to vote in 1920. The Declaration animated Martin Luther King Jr. In the movie “Milk,” about gay rights activist Harvey Milk, there’s a dramatic moment when he tells a crowd, “All men are created equal. No matter how hard you try, you can never erase those words.”
Now, a black man in the White House is unmistakable evidence of another advance for equality in America. The Howard students, and other African Americans whom I interviewed, recognize and appreciate that.
“For the first time, people looked past color and looked at substance” in the vote, said Kristopher Owens, 20, a junior from Lithonia, Ga.
Obama’s election shows that the promise of the United States “is being realized. We’re heading toward that more perfect union,” said Joe Madison, the well-known black host of a radio talk show based in Washington.
There are some outward signs of the change. Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), a black Vietnam veteran, said he had noticed that in the past, about four-fifths of blacks would put their hands over their hearts while standing for “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Recently, though, he said he has observed that it’s up to “virtually 100 percent,” and he attributes the change to Obama.
Others said they think that African Americans are following the news more closely and are more likely to visit Washington as tourists, because they feel as if they have more at stake in government and politics. African Americans continue to volunteer in larger-than-average numbers for the military, although that reflects economic pressure as well as patriotism.
So, what should we do so we can celebrate further progress on future Independence Days?
The Howard students mentioned the need to improve urban education, to end de facto segregation of institutions such as some high school proms and nursing homes, and to halt gentrification of neighborhoods such as the one around Howard. Their professor, Lawrence Kaggwa, was concerned about Monday’s Supreme Court decision favoring white firefighters in New Haven, Conn. It restricts an employer’s ability to consider race in personnel decisions, and Kaggwa wanted to ensure that it won’t weaken affirmative action and make it harder for his students to get jobs.
Asked what African Americans need to do, the students suggested that parents read to their children and use Obama as an example of what can be achieved. “No longer can we use the homeboy down the street who sells, or [rappers] Tupac [Shakur] and Biggie [Smalls]” as role models, Owens said. “The leader of the free world is your standard. You have no excuse.”
There’s an easy way for Obama to contribute to realizing America’s democratic dreams. He should speak out forcefully in favor of full voting rights for the District. He supports it, in theory, but has done almost nothing to use his power and prestige to advance the cause. “All men are created equal” helped inspire the nation to give political rights to other groups. It’s time to do the same for D.C. residents.
The Washington Post article basically posits, that African Americans have a greater incentive to be patriots and truly embrace America as our own, now that our president is black. Has Obama really had that much effect upon the black perspective of America? Have blacks finally forgiven America for burdening them/us with the legacy of slavery and bondage?
I disagree with several of the points in this article but really what it comes down to is that every African American is an individual and is entitled to their own “black experience” . In my black experience being a patriot was considered a “white thing” . As Denzel Washington portrays slain civil rights activist Malcolm X in director Spike Lee’s film “X”, he states that as blacks “we didn’t land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock Landed on Us.”
All of the “Mayflower stuff” has little if nothing to do with African American heritage right? Many blacks felt that lady Liberty is a racist. Granted there are valid reason for this especially from the “old school” African Americans like my mother and father, my brother…
They grew up during a time of great racial unrest. I was born after the war, so to speak both literally and figuratively. My brother constantly reminded me that my generation lived off the spoils and sweat of the black generations that proceeded me. He was correct, I did not seem to posses the same amount of anger but that does not belie my ability to see his point. I just chose not to follow it.
Given my family’s attitudes on the matter and the well foddered and documented instance that during a February 2008 campaign stop our First Lady, Michelle Obama said:
“For the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country … not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change,”
the idea that there are African Americans who are proud of their country for the first time because Barack Obama is president does not surprise me. This is where I disagree with the Washington Post article. It mentioned that the patriotism of African Americans is never questioned because of their military service. While this statement is true, I contend that culturally, there are many practices, rituals, and traditions that are inseparable from an American’s percieved societal memory of patriotism. Things that many blacks just did not do.
Again, here I want to preface my account by adding that this is purely my experience growing up black in a Chicago neighborhood during the 1970’s and 80’s.
In my neighborhood, the homes were often run down Victorian styled, or brick bungalows. All came equipped with those flag pole thingys on the windows. You never saw a flag hanging from them. Remember, many of the neighborhoods in Chicago that were populated by African Americans during the 70’s had just experienced an exodus of its white residents to the suburbs or “white flight” .
The homes in my hood were built during a time and by people who hung the American flag from their windows and they needed a flag post. However, once the whites fled, the chance of seeing an American flag flying from a black residence was a rare sight indeed and if you did see one , they were likely a military family. There was one “fluke” case that I know of wheret he white family that sold the home to the black family, left the flag in the post after they moved. That flag stayed there rain, sleet snow, Christmas and was so ragged that it would have been unrecognizable as a flag if it were not for the stars on a navy background against the pink and yellowed stripes. It is clear that the tradition of hanging the flag was not a priority for us.
Sure we celebrated the Fourth of July in my family. It meant getting your hair pressed and wearing green or yellow sundresses but it did not go beyond concocting recipes for beer basted rib tips, and mustard potato salad. The only red you wore was the Open Pit barbecue sauce stains on your pink parachute pants. 1976 was the bicentennial, did my predominately black Catholic School tell us why the year was so important? Not one word about it being America’s 200th birthday. I figured it out on my own by watching the nightly news programs and noticing that the quarters issued that year looked different from the others.
When I moved to the suburbs, I learned there was a different side to Independence day. During my short stint as a suburbanite in Oak Park, Illinois nearly every home had a flag hanging at least on the fourth of July. I began to formulate my own ideas of patriotism.
In the 80’s my mother was pretty much AWOL mentally and I would piggy back on the family cookouts of my white suburban friends. One family would recite the Bill of Rights before we ate and the father dressed up like George Washington. There was barbecue, baked beans, macaroni salad (yuck), and a a much more festive feel. Everyone wore the colors of the flag, except Afrocity who was in a pretty pink sundress. This was remedied by the hostess painting white stars on my face. Every year there after for the rest of my life, I wear red, white and blue on July 4th and I remember that it is just not about pulled pork and hot dog, it is America’s birthday.
I realize that a lack of patriotism is not only problematic among the African American communities. We could clearly see this was not the case after 9/11 when the American flag suddenly made a comeback. We were all patriots in rallying behind our country I recall while living in New York City, there were Middle Eastern cab drivers that had 5 or more flags decorating their taxis.
This brings me back to Barack Obama. Let’s recall his rather…curious statement about wearing a flag pin after 9/11.
“You know, the truth is that right after 9/11, I had a pin,” Obama said. “Shortly after 9/11, particularly because as we’re talking about the Iraq War, that became a substitute for I think true patriotism, which is speaking out on issues that are of importance to our national security, I decided I won’t wear that pin on my chest.- Barack Obama
Call me a doubting Afrocity but so far everything I have seen of President Barack Obama is actually anti-capitalism, anti-liberty, and anti-American. So I find it peculiar that African Americans would feel more connected to our country under his presidency. Whatever faith in Lady Liberty we have, should have been there from the beginning. Yes, a flag is a symbol. Like Obama, you can easily dismiss a flag pin as a false tool for empty patriotism and American propaganda but there are deep meanings behind such symbols. Symbols, slogans, chants were important to the presidential campaign of Barack Obama but he cannot deign to wear a flag pin in as a show of support for our country during a tragic time. This African American becomes POTUS and now all is forgiven, slavery and its wounds are forgotten? And how ironic that he is not really of slave descent in the African American sense- his mother a Caucasian, his father a Kenyan.
Yes, maybe Americans in general are more patriotic now that Obama has taken office, but it is to the 57 United States of Kool Aid -not the United States of America.
Their allegiance is to the leader not the country he leads. When you have citizens,voters, the mainstream media Obamabots who overlook gross injustices towards the legacy of our constitution, just because we have a cool black guy as our president, something about true American values have gone awry. If you criticize this man, you are isolated and attacked. If you speak out against him, you must be a racist. What is American about that? If you are African American and voted for McCain, you are a self-loathing traitor to your race. Nope, no problem here. We love our media to be bobble heads for our cool black president. American is hip and happening now. Everybody likes us. We are citizens of the world again and because we are in such a patriotic mood, we don’t mind one bit when get butt raped by Congress because they are now taxing the shit out of us. Yes, even the middle class. Even your health care benefits. You know the thing that Obama chastised John McCain for proposing during the 2008 campaign?
By saying these things, I am not trying to spoil America’s first birthday with it’s black president. My point is if you needed Barack Hussein Obama to feel like a better American, you have created an entirely different definition of patriotism that I do not want to be a part of.
Autographed Letter Signed,