Black Patriotism

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

In two days, some of you will wave sparklers and flags like wands, others of you may head to the local park for a thunderous fireworks display, and a few of you may even don an outfit with the red, white and blue. The Fourth of July wells many people with patriotism. But, for some African Americans, patriotism doesn't come so easily. A history of slavery, segregation and racism overshadows and contradicts a sense of patriotism — loyalty felt to America. Black poet Langston Hughes captured this contradiction in his poetry and writings. The poem "Let American be America Again" is a lyrical criticism of the notion of freedom and the realities of inequality. "There's never been equality for me.. Nor freedom in this 'homeland of the free,'" he writes. And in "I, Too, Sing America" he reminds us that black America is American. Today, we talk about black love of country and why some African Americans struggle with it. If you're black, do you struggle with patriotism?

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

If Langston Hughes thinks America is a raw deal, he should try Zimbabwe the Sudan, the Congo for size. God bless America, however imperfect!

Sent by Mo | 2:29 PM | 7-2-2008

I believe Michelle Obama said it was the first time she was 'really' proud of her country. Check it out. Would make a difference.

Sent by hannah | 3:20 PM | 7-2-2008

When I say the pledge, I think of the ideals that our nation stands for and what I can do to help it live up to those ideals. I keep my mouth closed at the "under god" phrase because one of those ideals is separation of church and State and I believe strongly that this 1954 addition to the pledge should be removed.

Sent by Amy in Portland | 3:20 PM | 7-2-2008

Neal,

You have misquoted Michelle Obama. What she said was, " For the first time in my life, I am REALLY proud of my country.."

She was saying, like many African-Americans feel, that she has always been proud of her country, but recent events have increased that pride.

Your misquote does damage to the dialogue.

Sent by Richard Tioler | 3:27 PM | 7-2-2008

The flag pin is not nearly as strong a symbol of Revolutionary American Ideals as Senator Obama, himself, is. Shouldn't some consideration be given to the fact that he has already worked within the American polical process to obtain one of the highest offices in the land?

Sent by Jerry J. Wilson | 3:30 PM | 7-2-2008

I'm white, a gay man living in a red state that voted to amend the state constitution to prevent me from gaining
equal rights. Because of that legislation it is now a struggle for gay families to even get health insurance benefits through their employer.

I do not hate my country, I do not wish my country ill fortune, but given the right opportunity, I would not hesitate to walk away from my country and accept citizenship in a new home that treats me as an equal citizen.

I don't like to compare the gay rights movement to the civil rights movement, there are big differences but through my own experience I try to imagine how it feels to be part of a racial minority that has been treated as second class.

A strong sense of patriotism requires having something to be proud of, I've been ashamed and embarrassed by my country over the last 8 years as my community has been used in the worst possible way for political gain. There is a similar history with African Americans and the Republican's Southern Strategy that continues to this day.

Sent by Samuel Kaufman | 3:31 PM | 7-2-2008

I am not African American, but have worked all my life for civil rights, beginning in the 60's. I risked my life for my belief in our country's ability to grow beyond racism. But I believe that our generation was robbed of our dreams, actually losing much of our patriotic ideals. For the first time, beginning with Bill Clinton and now especially with Barack Obama, we are beginning to dare to believe that patriotism might be tangible for us. I am deeply patriotic, but like most of my compatriots, I have been ashamed to be American, both here and abroad. Finally, we can hope that our patriotism is meaningful

Sent by Sheila Ivers | 3:32 PM | 7-2-2008

Hello, can your guest address the "otherness" that Latinos have been placed into and how their patriotism have also been question in various forms. For example, when Latinos bring out flags representing their own countries.

Sent by Martin Meraz Garcia | 3:32 PM | 7-2-2008

Here's the thing--blacks in America have been asked to take care of us who are white--to carry the current and past burdens of racism all the while allowing whites to think they are not racist. Any black person who wants to discuss current racism suddenly gets the race card played on him by whites who start complaining that he or she is "playing the race card."

I'm especially sensitive at the moment, as I am reading "Slavery by Another Name" (Douglas Blackmon) and just heard Harper Barnes talk about his new book " Never Been a Time: The 1917 Race Riot That Sparked the Civil Rights Movement" and am thus confronting the history of white American behavior and attitudes toward black Americans which, I believe, lingers today.

I actually know it lingers as I hear Neil's tone of voice as he demands to be reassured that all that is in the distant past and has no affect on blacks today.

Phooey. We are all guilty and we need to start owning up.

Sent by Karen Freeman | 3:35 PM | 7-2-2008

The discussion of this show is important to the nation, but it is based on the premise that the questioning of Sen. Obama's pratriotism is genuine. It is a campaign strategy aimed at getting votes. Those questioning his patriotism are only using it to win, they could care less if it is true.

Sent by Paul DuBois | 3:35 PM | 7-2-2008

I too have difficulty with the phrase : liberty and justice for all. As an Anglo woman I have seen too much inequality, and injustice, to believe that being a Patriot means accepting all of the institutional practices that our Government has historically been involved in. Sadly, we seem to unwilling to look at our history realistically. I am pleased to think we can have a more realistic and deeply representative government--It is about time. How can we question our citizens patriotism?

Sent by Anna Enger | 3:36 PM | 7-2-2008

The mayor of Denver did his state of the city yesterday in which a professional black singer decided at the last minute to sing instead of the Star Spangled Banner; the black national anthem. She told the TV stations; she only told her husband and a friend before hand; she wasnt sorry she did this and she decided this on her own.

This made the news all over the metro area and alot of people were upset that not only someone is hired to do a job (doing it 10 years) but doesnt do it but as well no one stopped her from doing it.

We are not black but we are disabled and we can understand being discriminated against but this went too far. While you may not fully respect the national anthem; you are hired and paid to do a specific job and that doesnt give you the right to voice your opinions by doing another song.

Sent by jm | 3:40 PM | 7-2-2008

The topic of this program is absurd. Should anyone be patriotic? Should gay people be patriotic? Should poor people? Should atheists?

Are black Africans patriotic, they did after-all take part in selling the slaves to America. Not to mention all the other egregious cases of blacks treating blacks poorly in Africa, gee Rwanda. How much time has to pass before it is okay for black Americans to be patriotic? I personally, don't think anyone should feel patriotic, but to argue on these grounds is really lame.

I really am so sick and tired of the abandonment of all reason on NPR when it involves black Americans. It is real shame. This intellectual dishonesty makes people really not care.

Sent by Scott (M) | 3:44 PM | 7-2-2008

I am a white American and I have not heard anything from the panel of African Americans that I would disagree with. I find it difficult,knowing our history, to wholeheartedly fell a sense of patriotism to the United States. There are maning wonderful things about this counrty including its Constitution/Amendments/Bill of rights. Yet there is a cloud of hypocrisy that has loomed over us since the country's inception and you don't have to be an African American to appreciate that and to feel both a sense of shame and frustration regarding these issues.

Sent by Tony D'Ambrosio | 3:44 PM | 7-2-2008

Thank you for this discussion. I am a 37 year old white female and feel there are many wounds that have not been healed from slavery in this country. We cannot ignore or cover them up thinking that slavery happenend so long ago and that it does not affect us now. To heal these wounds we need to be concious of the inequality and injustice that has happened in the past and that continues to this day. Please continue have such frank and open conversations.

Sent by Kathleen | 3:49 PM | 7-2-2008

H-E-L-P! I am a black American in the discipline of architecture connected to a prominent university in the US. I speak in code words to my identity because the discipline is run by those who are racist/supremacist in theory and practice, and the community is small and will "blacklist" people for their comments. This country has a lot of work to do on the topic of race and the most "liberal" of people and disciplines are some of the worse criminals. Yes things are better than the past, yes I KNOW I am American, but we cannot hide from the inequality that exists even at the levels of those blacks in prominent professionals.

Sent by Charles Wright | 3:49 PM | 7-2-2008

Why did everyone fault what Michelle Obama said and no one took McCains wife to task about her statement. As an African American Waoman I was offended by her comment. Was she proud when she learned about the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, or the internment of the Japenese during World War II, or when she read about Wounded Knee. I love this country but I am not always proud of it. I think African Americans love it more because we have love this country even when we were not loved in return.

Sent by Angela Johnson | 3:54 PM | 7-2-2008

We develop ideas about people and things in part by the way we label them. If African-Americans want to be partiotic, they should simply label themselves as Americans, not African-Americans. Few of them are Africans. Most of the ones living here having been born here. If they want ot be viewd as patriots, they should refer to themselves are Americans. Or perhaps Americans of african descent. Calling themselves African-American indicates a preference for being African over being American. I say, if you are born in the United States, you cannot be aything other than an Amreican. Be proud of your heritage, but be American first.

Sent by Tom Keenze | 3:55 PM | 7-2-2008

I was a long time volunteer in the Texas prison system & now work for the court in Hays County, Texas & I am ceratin that there is far more predjudice of blacks against whites than the other way around. On my mother's side,my family was made up of Quakers who assisted in the underground railroad & Union soldiers died on my father's side and we are now a mixed race family. But often,that does not stop African Americans from mistrusting me & sometimes treating me w/disrespect.
What would be those folks condition if their own ancestors had not sold them into slavery? Facing that issue honestly should produce some form of patriortism for this country.

Sent by Jo Spicer | 3:57 PM | 7-2-2008

We should read Frederick Douglass's speech given in 1852 when asked to give a 4th of July address, the last paragraph of which says, "Go search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without rival."

Sent by Paula Thoburn | 4:02 PM | 7-2-2008

...In a country riddled with a constant effort to develop our political status both locally and internationally, I have noticed an essential "blip" regarding the pride of country;

In all of these healthy debates, we forget that this type of dialogue regarding social injustice is not only open & entertained but can do so while BROADCASTED on a national level!

I found my patriotism lies with that simple luxury, and how proactive it can be for the future.

Thank You for it!

Sent by Malia Macheel | 4:05 PM | 7-2-2008

Why does it seem that the media is teaching the black community to whine about the past? Keep living and move on in this future-American culture includes all of us here to make it the best we can, with the past teaching us what not to do again. Photos of the past, be they there or not, do not disprove what we know in writing. Sometimes photos are lost in homes or home fires. I see plenty old photos at garage sales. Mr. Glover's concerns about the few published photos of blacks in civil war are biased. I've seen many of the black soldiers just in my children's text books. I can be biased too, where are the photos of all the black women who supported these men, or the white women for that matter?
I think that some of these discussion instills racism in African Americans where there was no ill feelings before. What is the purpose? My ancestors had a terrible life, but I dwell upon making mine the best that I can despite their past. LARGE CHESTED WOMEN ARE ALWAYS STARED AT IN UGLY WAYS - SO, get over it! MOVE ON, MAKE IT THE BEST, STOP WHINING. After-all, Better here than in Saudi Arabia where women are not seen.

Sent by M. Franz | 4:13 PM | 7-2-2008

I wanted to respond to a comment made about, African Americans understanding Michelle Obama's comment about being "proud of her country for the first time." I felt the same way, that we understood. I saw it in a new light, when Whoopi Goldberg made a point of actually playing the clip of Mrs. Obama's speech on the View. What she said was "for the first time she was really proud of her country". That really made a different I think even white america would have understood. The fact that it was deleted is another thing that African Americans understand also.

Sent by Sharon Ferguson-Quick | 4:18 PM | 7-2-2008

I am an Afro-American although I consider myself an American-Afro. I served in the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam, and received a combat award. Unlike most immigrants who come to America and who maintain some identity to their native country even if they have never actually visited that country, this is not true for Americans with an Africian ethnic heritage. Whether Americans-Africians acknowledge it or not, they are more American than Native Americans. The American culture, however you define it, is the only culture we truly know and feel comfortable experiencing. Our American culture is deeply rooted in the soil of American slavery. The stench of brutal and inhuman enslavement connects every cell of our body. Its in the food we love, our belief in God, our anger, and our struggle to fully recover. Nevertheless, our patriotism and belief in the higher character and values of America has remained consistently high through the Revolutionary War, Civil War, Jim Crow Impositions, Indian Wars, WWI, Depression, New Deal, WWII, Korean Conflict, Vietnam Conflict, Desert Storm I, Desert Storm II, and Iraq Occupation. No embattled citizenry in history has been more patrotic than Americans of Africian heritage. This includes me.

Sent by Michael | 4:24 PM | 7-2-2008

As a 32 year old African- American, I appreciate NPR for presenting such a wonderful program. While I also love my country, I have also struggled with patriotism for my country.As the daughter of a WWII veteran, the sister to the first African-American girl who attended my cities all white high school, as well as growing up in a city which staged the only state supported government coup in American history (1898 riot), which affected my family both financially and emotionally for years, I can understand and apperciate the struggles of my family. I was raised to always be proud of the progress of those around you, but to always view whites in America with caution. However, I was also taught to never turn a person away who is sincere in there actions and deeds, It's been done to often to us (African-Americans) for it to happen to anyone else.

When I heard the comments of Michelle Obama, I felt I could relate to how she felt and could not understand why others could not. It took many days of pondering to know that not everyone in America shares the same family or cultural history.

I would like to thank NPR again, for allowing the views of African Americans to be heard when it relates to patriotism.

Sent by M N H | 4:25 PM | 7-2-2008

I disagree with the comment left by Scott. Some of the Africans that sold other Africans into slavery did not care that the people they sold into slavery where fellow Africans. They sold people because they got something in return that they valued more, whether it was guns, fabrics, foods or in some cases their own freedom. As far as my thoughts on the topic of Black Patriotism it is a difficult issue for some blacks, at least those who are the decedents of enslaved Africans, because of the history of how the United States government treated blacks for so many decades. (the original enslavement of their ancestors, Jim Crow laws, unfair treatment, etc.)

Sent by Chris | 8:26 PM | 7-2-2008

In reference to "playing the race card," players in card games, usually play the cards they're dealt. Therefore, Blacks or any other non-white groups play the cards they're dealt.

Sent by Jerelyne Catleberry Williams | 10:56 PM | 7-2-2008

The "odd" (unpatriotic?) responses to America--as some like to think will continue as long as millions of Americans are unable to accurately understand the meaning of words by Senator and Mrs. Obama, The Reverend Wright, any and all people who have a different experience and interpretation from the jingoistic,flag wavers. There is a different drummer,many of them.

Sent by Gwendoline Y. Fortune, Ed. D. | 11:10 PM | 7-2-2008

One of the speakers spoke of race making Obama the "outsider" and contributed to the accusations against his patriotism (as well as being Muslim, etc.,). I would argue that while this IS a variable, one must also take into account the fact that he is what people are beginning to call a "Third Culture Kid". This is someone who spends a significant part of their developmental years outside their parents home culture. Obama's father being Kenyan, and Obama having himself lived in Indonesia as a child, have made him a "TCK".

I would argue that this is also a variable which creates "exclusion". Many Americans who are TCKs have issues with acceptance within the community because there is an element of society which views them as outsiders despite that their language, their basic culture, and their education has been "American". For me, while race IS a big issue, it is not the only issue that contributes to "exclusion"

Sent by RD | 1:56 AM | 7-3-2008

To the man of German descent who questioned the patriotism of African Americans while repeating the mythology of the patriotic fast Americanized immigrant.

I suggest he read his own American history before defaming mine. There are parts of Wisconsin where German was spoken in 'hoods the way Spanish is the local lingo of East Harlem.

And, speaking of patriotism, as recently as the 1940s the pro NAZI, pro German nationalist group the Bund were goose stepping in the Manhattan neighborhood of Yorkville. Hardly, patriotic.

Sent by Rick Evans | 8:40 AM | 7-3-2008

Thanks for the segment "Shades Of Gray Cloak Black Patriotism." I appreciated not only the wisdom of your guests, but the insights of your callers. I fully support Barack Obama's choice NOT to wear a flag lapel pin. In fact, since 9/11, the ubiquity of the suit and tie with the flag pin on the lapel has become a sort of uniform, not unlike the Nazi swastika was in the late thirtys and early forties. As my anthropologist fianc?? says, "A lot of people do a lot of bad things and then cover them up by wearing a flag lapel pin." Let's put this "FLaP" behind us and remember that this IS a free country.

Sent by Barbara Scott | 10:44 AM | 7-3-2008

I am a patriot and a veteran (served in Iraq, Kuwait and Afganistan between 2001 and 2005) but because of my skin color or the block I check my patriotism is often devalued. And to most Americans confusion the "White Block" includes Arabian and North African people....Kinda interesting I'd say...

Sent by Shayna | 11:30 AM | 7-3-2008

I was not born in America. I am a naturalized citizen of America. I consider myself an American, but am forced to accept the status quo of African American. As an outsider, I understand why some African-American's views on patriotism and their lack of acknowledgement. The history of America show black Americans have been denied, they have had to struggled and fight for the same rights as white americans despite all they have done and contributed to this country. So why be patriotic when we are not accepted and treated as such

Sent by DJ | 2:10 PM | 7-3-2008

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- About 220 Zimbabweans have fled to the U.S. Embassy in Harare, seeking refuge from election-related violence, embassy spokesman Mark Weinberg said Thursday.
Don't they know that U.S. is racist? They ought to seek refuge with a country that wasn't built on slavery.

Sent by Mo | 2:15 PM | 7-3-2008

Like every edition of TOTN which I've heard that's dealt with this whole problem of race, touched off by the success of this amazing half white/half black candidate, I'm driven nearly to tears when listening to the dignity and fears of our black citizens.

It's not a matter of being ashamed of my race which has perpetrated the most appalling injustices upon those of color, not even a matter of being still appalled at how excruciatingly slowly progress is being made at repairing the monumental insults, not even being profoundly embarrassed by the stinginess and lack of imagination of those of my race in equitably resolving the horrific affront done to those of color in the service of greed.

For me, there's a big component of joy at hearing the truths that your guests are willing to express, and that joy seems to want to be expressed with tears rather than smiles and laughter.

Thank you so much for making these opportunities for us white people to hear our compatriots of color speak so eloquently of their lives.

Sent by elfpix | 11:22 PM | 7-3-2008

Why do we not hear much about the Native American? No one seems to want to talk about the atrocities inflicted on these people. Trail of Tears etc. I wonder how many people even know about such things. Who wants to discuss their patriotism?

Sent by Honesty | 10:05 AM | 7-4-2008

My late father-in-law, who was of Italian birth, saw German and Italian prisoners of war being treated more deferentially than African-American soldiers, and found the treatment of peaceful civil rights marchers to be similar to the treatment of protesters in fascist Italy. I'm surprised at the lack of bitterness among the African-American community.

Sent by Ed | 2:44 PM | 7-4-2008

This country is built on the solid patriotism of people like Michael, MNH, Shayna, and DJ. I am so impressed by your experience and comments. Maybe people like Mo will learn from you some day.

Sent by Mike Fleissner | 9:09 PM | 7-5-2008