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Letter from the Editor: What Does it Mean to be a Proud American?

Is it really pride we're feeling as Americans ... or privilege?
Image: _freakwave_ from Pixabay

Dear BK Readers:

As we inch closer to the general presidential elections-- perhaps the most important in our lifetime-- I'd like to talk about a driving factor for why many will vote: a love of this country. Pride.

But what is American pride? Only you can answer that for yourself.

As for me, a "minority" who was born and raised in this country, I can say that as an American, I've mostly felt like an outsider, looking in. A spectator.

It's also why, for most Black Americans, the "black" part has more gravity than "American." And that's not by our original design: America's Constitution defined Blacks as property, not people. That sentiment has persisted in large and small ways, 400 years later, and can be found in every fiber of this country's deeds, discourse and development. 

It may surprise a lot of non-Black Americans that for many of us, being American is a construct-- something you go along with for society sake … sorta like being born in a man's body but never feeling like you're quite … that … gender.

New Kids in the Neighborhood (1967), Norman Rockwell

In fact, it wasn't until I moved to New York City when I really really began to think about my authentic American-ness-- when a woman from Trinidad asked me where I was from, assuming it was one of the Caribbean islands.

"Chicago," I answered. 

"No, originally," she pressed.

"Ummm, Mississippi?" I answered. My family had migrated north to Chicago from Mississippi, as a part of the Northern Migration, three decades before I was born. 

"Or do you mean…." I hesitated, "Africa?"

"So you're African?" she asked.

"No," I countered, "I'm American. I mean... I'm a Black American."

"I can see you're Black," she laughed. "So you're American then?"

"Yes. I'm American," I said, exasperated and baffled at why the entire exchange felt like a trick question. 

It was at that moment I realized, subconsciously, I had never claimed "American" as my singular identity, because, as a person of color, America had never, singularly claimed me

I am Black American, and I am proud to be a part of what has made America great. And if you've contributed positively to this country's development, invested blood, sweat equity and tears, you too have every right to be proud. 

However, it is entirely possible to love the construct of marriage but not the one you marry-- a dysfunctional relationship no less; but it exists. In the same way, you can love the idea of employment and not your employer. The two can-- and often do-- happen at once.  Pride can exist for one and not the other.

So, what does it mean to be a proud American to you? Does it mean freedom? If so, what is freedom? 

Does freedom mean an irrational and unending access to the benefits of white privilege? Or does freedom mean the right to be of one gender that legislates upon another gender what he or she can and cannot do with his or her body? Or perhaps freedom means the right to open carry a rifle and shoot dead a few people during a peaceful protest under the guise of maintaining law and order. 

Javier Robles from Pixabay

Does freedom mean risking your life to cross America's borders and feeling secure you will not be separated for months from your children? Or does freedom mean being able to rely on Democratic processes, like voting, not being derailed by foreign meddlers? Or maybe freedom means being able to work hard, save your money and not be denied a mortgage or a nice home in any neighborhood based off of the color of your skin.

At what point do we stop patting America on the back for its great "freedoms" and "equal opportunities" when the foundation of those tenets don't exist? 

At what point do we stop pretending we're proud proud of the laws that have systematically locked out one group from the same wealth-building, life-giving opportunities that have grossly over benefitted another, based off of the color of its skin?

Are you really proud to be an American in today's America? Really??? Just look at us. We've become a racist hotbed, a COVID-19 hotspot, and an economic hot mess! Yes, there have been times I've felt great pride and a lot of hope for this country (cough: Barack Obama). But of America right now? No, I am not proud. 

Photo: GrandAve for shutterstock

And you shouldn't be either. Until we truly live up to the edict that all men are created equal and are endowed by that Creator with the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. … Until all men and women, gay, straight, transgender, Black, white, brown-- all of us-- can truly hold those truths to be self-evident, what's there to be proud of?

This I know for sure: I am an American. I am proud of the contributions my family, my community and my ancestors have made to this country's growth and development, to the science, the arts, the culture, and to the civil rights struggle that opened the doors for millions of more immigrants and people of color to walk through. But I am not proud of how America has treated the Native, Black and brown people that have sacrificed on its behalf.

Now, ask yourself: What makes you proud to be an American right now? And is what makes you proud something unequivocally afforded to all? If the answer is "no," then it's not pride you're feeling; it's privilege.

America's first original sin is greed. It's an American addiction, and it's time for an intervention. It's time to end this dysfunctional relationship America has with its own citizens and finally begin the hard road to recovery.

Sincerely and with love,

C. Zawadi Morris, Publisher and Editor, BK Reader

C. Zawadi Morris

About the Author: C. Zawadi Morris

C. Zawadi Morris is an award-winning journalist and a Chicago native who moved to Brooklyn in 1997.
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