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?

2 thoughts on “Proud to be American?”

  1. Tajare, really great post! I find this conversation of pride to be super interesting, especially because in my experience, this pride in being American is almost forced into the minds of our children in school. How the first long-ish phrase we learn to memorize is the pledge of allegiance, which students are expected to recite every single day, and if someone refuses, they are subjected to ridicule and guilt in the form of “you are disrespecting everyone who has died for your ability to stand and recite this statement.” Additionally, in many school environments, history classes also teach with this extreme nationalism overshadowing the information. I personally had one class ever in my public school education that encouraged us to try and understand the true horrifying reality of the American past and to reflect on the present failures, and that was a class I had to seek out…not one on the standard track. Unfortunately, (and I cannot speak for everywhere) our public education systems are built in a way that allows us to never need to confront the reality of what American History and American present actually mean, all the while instilling a level of “America is Faultless and criticizing it is disrespectful to those who have died protecting your freedom” nationalism.

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  2. Hi Tajarie!
    The situation with Isaac Woodward made me think that even if they did notice he was a soldier fighting for this country, they probably didn’t even care. The sad thing is, we still see similar situations happen today. Black individuals are profiled just because they are Black, even if they are where they are supposed to be. I saw a video a few weeks ago about a Black man who was an executive for a store or something and police officers stopped him on the street because he “jaywalked” (he didn’t). They then asked him if he had an ID on him and he went to go reach for it, which was in his wallet, in his pocket. However, the cops yelled at him and told him not to go into his pocket. What I don’t understand is, you literally just asked him if he had an ID. He went to go get it, why are you mad at him? The answer is because the executive was a Black man. If the executive was a White man, he wouldn’t even be looked at.
    It’s also interesting that you mention being proud of the American identity if you were born in America. As I grow older and continue to learn about the hate that America was built on, I have become ashamed of my American identity. Watching other countries go towards normalcy, while the United States suffers from the COVID-19 pandemic, makes me ashamed of being an American. I think that there is so much work that needs to be done in terms of government, structural changes, and inequality reform.
    As for your question, I think that it is very difficult to remove the American identity from the country’s history, because really not much has changed. Not only in terms of equality for minorities, but with equality between men and women, people who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community, and essentially anyone who is not a cis-heterosexual white man. This country was built for the white man and continues to be for the white man. Not saying that white people in general do not hold a privilege in this country, because they do, but I don’t think there’s a way to separate the identity and the history. We are currently living in it.

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