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The Negro Rears His Head

By Kathy Y. Wilson · September 27th, 2001 · Your Negro Tour Guide
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" 'God bless America' ... those are songs from a long time ago."
--Edward, white man on the street

The Sept. 11 attack on America by what's turning out to be Osama bin Laden's boys has Negroes more confused and more perplexed than ever. And it's causing an ever-so-subtle rift many of us don't want to deal with, much less speak about publicly.

Amidst the din of patriotic anthems, pro-American sloganeering and political death threats, the Negro's voice has been muffled, if not completely silent. United y'all stand, divided we're falling.

Why? Because we can't quite collectively figure out just where we fit in all this. If we, at the brink of war, criticize America (and some Americans) for racial profiling -- you know, the pictures of Arabs and Muslims backed by a chorus of, "But don't hate them because they're different" -- or cry out that the saturation of pro-American rhetoric gives white racists a visible hiding place, we'll be fingered as enemies of the state.

And who wants that? Probably not one of us when many of us have spent our lives assimilating, perpetrating and trying to weave ourselves into the exclusive cloth that is America's fabric.

See, we, too, are besieged by patriotism. But history has taught us that it's not as easy for us to fly a flag from our front porches due to the duality of Negrodom.

Secretly and with exceptions, our blood runs red, white and blue, though outwardly we tend to want to appear steely and aloof in our patriotism. It's schizophrenia, really.

The flip side of the outwardly and unabashedly patriotic Negro is the sideways glance of the Revolutionary Negro who's been overheard saying, "America had it coming." But that's merely the ignorant posturing and internalizing of a self-loathing, disenfranchised person who finds it easier to make blanket statements rather than figure out where he fits in this country.

Fitting in is the American Negro's favorite pastime.

In the days since the horrific attacks, I'd expected to see at least Negroes of my parents' generation (60- and 70-somethings) waving, flying or wearing American flags, but they haven't in large numbers.

This doesn't mean they -- or we -- don't love this country as much as the next American does. We've fought here and abroad for our fair share of inalienable rights. That generation lived through world wars, civil and women's rights and racism real and perceived.

I think many Negroes operate under the weight and guise of a healthy dose of cynicism. We're looking askance at this onslaught of Americana. We don't trust it. We've spent long enough on the periphery of American "isms" that we know better than to jump headlong into the feel-good fray. It might be horribly disappointing for us in the long run.

Truth is, if we roll up our sleeves and plunge shoulder-deep in this fracas, many Negroes do not trust (white) America to finish the work of eradicating racism when, and if, this all ends.

Yeah, y'all need us now to stand united, but we've been begging y'all for what seems like forever to stand united with us to do some tough work. So this comes down to more than patriotism. It's a question of loyalties, of reciprocity and of surviving.

Yeah, I've been looking for us in all this. I know we're there, but the media has been loath to show us weeping, rescuing, singing and praying. Yet I know we have been.

Oh, I've seen Oprah Winfrey and James Earl Jones giving speeches. I saw clips of Whoopi Goldberg, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Jada Pinkett-Smith answering telephones during the star-studded telethon. But they're the "chosen," the in-crowd on the A-list -- fly Negroes in the buttermilk, if you will.

I'm waiting for a proliferation.

Besides peace and mental, spiritual and emotional recovery for victims and their families, I want most from this to see us -- all of us -- comfortable in our personal degrees of patriotism, whatever that is. For me, it doesn't mean scurrying to buy a flag to wear or fly.

I've never owned one before now, yet I still know I'm an American. This is my country.

But because I'm a black American woman, I'm a different type of American, which means I might not be gung-ho. I'm cautious, as many other Negroes are. That caution doesn't make me (or us) any less American should we not join in public clusters of prayers, rallies and sing-alongs.

One of the reasons this is all so shocking is because America the beautiful has meant America the immune. Suddenly, we're in line for hope, blessings and recovery.

Well, join the club. Negroes have been in line since we booked passage over here. And some still are waiting to be recognized and treated as Americans -- by the majority's definition -- before we can comfortably join in.

We're waiting. Get back to us.

 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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