Imagine for a moment the year is 1776 and you are black. You are owned by a white man, a rich white man. He is riding off to fight for independence from England. He has fully embraced the idea of freedom and liberty and an individual’s right to determine their own destiny. He has not offered you your freedom and has taken certain steps to ensure you don’t try to gain it yourself in his absence.
How important would the fourth of July be to you?
You are still black, but free and living in Philadelphia, maybe New York. War has begun with the southern states which are fighting to retain the right to own your people as slaves. The white people around you argue over what they are fighting for, retaining the Union or freeing the slaves. Either way, you still aren’t allowed to worship with, go to school with, join the labor guild, or live in the same area as all these lighter skinned Americans. Even the unpopular immigrants, Irish and Italians, don’t appear to like you. They are coming over in droves.
How would you feel about America as you watch these newcomers become naturalized citizens, who then riot at the idea of a draft to go fight for black people’s freedom?
Soon the whole world is at war.
Germany keeps invading other countries and declaring themselves superior. You, a black person watch as the whole country marches off to stamp out the evils of Nazi racism and protect the freedoms of not just America, but the world. Meanwhile a law was passed saying you can vote, yet you still aren’t allowed to do so. You can’t testify in court against a white person, no matter who that white person is or what they have done, you still can’t join the unions or go to the same school as the white people, and all the police are white.
In such a situation what might you think when the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor?
Then we go off to fight in Asian countries. We do so to protect against the freedom squelching powers of communism. Thousand upon thousands of American soldiers are shipped thousands of miles away to defend the relative freedom of citizens of Korea and Vietnam. Meanwhile you, remember you are black, still can’t send your kids to the good public school, ride in the front of the bus, join the union, see a white doctor, or live next door to a white person. Did I mention you still live in Philadelphia? A bunch of folks from all over are heading south on Greyhound buses and they are getting beaten senseless. The Police don’t protect them because they are the ones doing the beating.
How, with all this in mind, would you feel about America?
Would you be justified in being angry?
Would it make sense that you lack pride in these United States?
Might you resent this country and its promises applied to all except you and yours?
Lets consider how black people have reacted historically (go back to being white again). In the Revolution black people signed up to fight. There was a hope that freedom and liberty would one day trump the slave system.
In the civil war black people lobbied and pushed for the right to fight for the north, and once allowed, did so with vigor.
In the World Wars, black people enlisted. Knowing they would be relegated to being cooks and porters, they still joined up to go fight for other’s freedom. Many even enlisted in foreign regiments to be able to see combat. They did not relinquish their American identity, but had to join a foreign force to be allowed to defend home. Black troops were on the vanguard liberating Paris and concentration camps.
While the law would not defend black people at home, they were still drafted to go to Southeast Asia. They fought and died just like the white men.
All throughout American history black people have answered America’s call. From it’s inception, American’s with ancestral roots in Africa have stood up for the Star Spangled Banner and put their lives on the line.
Who can compete with this brand of patriotism? What group of people has better earned a right to complain or voice opinion on national matters? Who am I, to ever cast doubt on the motivations or loyalties of these “others”? If I ever hear a black commentator, blogger, or author being less than enthused when America is celebrated, maybe I’m the one who should be quiet.
On this, the days after our nation’s birthday, maybe we can think a little about where we have been and where we are now.
God Bless America and all those who call her home.