Defining black patriotism

July 4th conjures images of patriotic Americana: family barbecues followed by the ubiquitous, oh-so-American, fireworks celebration. American patriotism has many faces. What does the contemporary face of black American patriotism look like?

History shows our rich pedigree of American patriotism. Whether in the unblinking bravery of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first all-black military regiment to fight in the Civil War, or in the scathing, dissenting oration of Frederick Douglass’ 1852 4th of July address in which he posited, “What, to the American slave is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.”

Perhaps the inability to accurately identify “black patriotism” lies in the fact that the term itself remains undefined. Writer and activist Amiri Baraka said: “What is so often forgotten in any discussion of the Negro’s place in American society is the fact that it was only as a slave that he really had one. The post-slave society had no place for the black American, and if there were to be any area of the society where the Negro might have an integral function, that area would have to be one that he created for himself.”

It has been only a few generations since black Americans have been slaves in the sense that Baraka spoke of and the freedoms we have since been afforded and the profound achievements we have contributed to the fabric of American society have had an impact not only on our place in society but also on the ideals that shape the way of life by which we all as Americans honor our country through our patriotism.

How does one then define or accurately pinpoint the black idea of patriotism? Is it fixed or is it fluid? Does it depend upon the circumstances in which we find ourselves? Can ideas of black patriotism be reduced or fortified by the experiences that are unique to black Americans?

One cannot ignore W.E.B. DuBois’ description of “Double Consciousness,” the constant balancing act of the black American to preserve their sense of African-ness with the social and psychic identification with their American-ness.

Perhaps our patriotism is not qualified or disqualified by our blackness but rather defined by the varying percentages to which we view ourselves at any point in time as being more or less “American” as it conforms or conflicts with our ideas of “blackness.” Is it made anymore salient with a Commander-in-Chief with whom the population in question bears resemblance?

Regardless of the ebb and flow of black psychology as related to our feeling any more or less patriotic, one can safely assume that it will be found in some form in the faces of those in the barbecue line. It will be seen reflecting the light from the evening display of the “bombs bursting in air” and discovered in microcosm within the smiles of the patriotic black Americans whose uniqueness contribute richly to the tapestry of all things American and by extension, patriotic.

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