Proud to be American?

In the NY Times 1619 project, Nikole Hannah-Jones hosted a podcast called “The fight for a true democracy” where she mentioned a story about Isaac Woodward.  He was a  27 year old Black man who had just returned from fighting in WW2. While on his way to see his wife, the bus driver stopped and Isaac asked him if he could use the restroom, he said no. They argued and ultimately, Isaac still went to use the restroom. After he returned to the bus, a couple miles ahead, the bus stopped and the driver asked him to get off and he did, the driver then went to get the police. Before Isaac could say anything, the police started to beat him until he was unconscious. The beating was so vicious that he lost his sight. Isaac was still in his uniform, there was no doubt that he was a soldier but this was questioned because of the color of his skin. Isaac went to fight for this country and left his family behind and even then he could not gain the respect of the white people.

Photograph of World War II veteran Isaac Woodard with eyes swollen shut from aggravated assault and blinding.
Isaac Woodward, 1946
Public Domain

Isaac’s story made me wonder about what it takes to be a proud American. I never understood this concept of being a proud American, but can I even judge since I wasn’t born here? I guess if you are benefiting from the country then why wouldn’t you love it? That makes sense to me, but a person of color saying that they are a proud American doesn’t. Why would you be proud to be a part of a place that benefits from your downfall? What’s there to be proud of?

Maybe it has to do with identity. Some Black people might believe that because they were born in America and their ancestors built this country then they have some claim to it. In that sense I understand you saying that you are American because you are, you are just as American as the white person. But a proud American, why? It almost makes me angry when I hear Black people say that they are proud Americans, or try to defend this country. But on the other hand, I am Black and so is the rest of my family and we moved here for a better life. So am I a hypocrite for being angry when people are defending this country, knowing that while my benefits from this country might not be a lot, I am in fact still benefiting from it? Or am I being completely rational because I could only recognize how I was benefiting from this country by comparing it to a place that isn’t as advanced and developed. The United States Of America is equipped with everything it needs to allow its people to thrive, yet it seems as if it only knows success when it comes at the cost of Black individuals’ humanity.

Is there a way to separate the American identity from the history of the country?

What do you think? Join the conversation!

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