Module 4. Our Story: African Americans
THE RECENT PAST
In the final decades of the 20th century, African Americans continued to push against racial oppression. They continued to face issues like wage inequality, racial profiling, general racial discrimination and more. Measures like affirmative action attempted to address racial inequities but were debated and rejected.
Jesse Jackson was heralded as a symbol for change as he embarked on a Democratic Presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988. Numerous other Black politicians entered public service offices. Of course, the most recent and notable Black politicians in American history is Barack Obama, who was voted president in 2008 and served until 2017.
Popular entertainment would also see the successes of comedians like Eddie Murphy and Whoopie Goldberg, actors like Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, musicians like Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston, and of course, Oprah as an arbiter of culture.
Despite these successes, the underbelly of race relations in the U.S. is exemplified in the various deaths of many Black men and some women, mostly at the hands of the police or White citizens. Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Philando Castile – as well as most recently Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd are just some of the names of controversial deaths in recent years. The Floyd murder at the hands of the police spurred another surge in the social movement Black Lives Matter, a movement that advocates against police brutality and racially motivated violence. In 2020, protests erupted nationwide objecting to systemic racism that permeates American society. Supporters of the movement seek to undo racial inequities in education, employment, and other walks of American life.
Although the debates for racial justice, solutions for racial inequities are still ongoing, there is much to learn and reevaluate about African American historical narratives. African American history is American history as much as any other racial and ethnic group in this country and should be recognized for the role and place they have in the nation’s history.
That is a question for the ages. We all have an identity. The question is, is the identity framed from within, or is it assigned to us? I think about that a lot, and I believe I have come to an answer of sorts, even if not all will agree with me. As a man of color in America, I am also an American who incidentally happens to be a man of color. What’s the difference you say? Well, read on friend, then you can tell me.
I grew up in a mixed neighborhood, where all the primary races were present within a three-block radius, any direction you looked. And I attended a parochial school where less than one percent of the student body was of color. Each day I stood and proudly said the Pledge of Allegiance. I didn’t notice that my being African-American meant anything more than the student next to me being a Caucasian-American. Race was not discussed openly. In a very real sense, I was color-blind.
I was quite proud of my father who was in the Army, a veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. My mother worked as a civilian contractor for the military, at one point elevating to Regional Director for the Contracting Division in Fort Lewis, Washington. I have every reason to be proud of my parents. They served the American military community very well. They served America well.
And I myself am a veteran, having served four tours as an Air Force Officer and language development instructor for military dependents.
I am happy, and to be plaintive—very proud to have served the United States of America. I stand on the shoulders of men and women of color who served, died, and survived wars spanning the past 80 years. They were often mistreated by their peers and supervisors even as they served because they were people of color. They were overlooked for military honors, they were placed on the front lines of danger in disproportionate numbers, as they were considered “expendable.” Others worked hard to qualify for high-profile military positions and after qualifying, were designated as cooks or custodians. These actions were prevalent, unfair, and a shameful stain on the proud record of service that all veterans share.
But it cannot be doubted that these minorities did serve America, regardless of how they were treated. I, for one, consider them proud Americans, period. Many will say to me, “What’s wrong with being a proud African-American?” My answer: not a thing.
But at the end of the day, I know I still salute the American flag that I served. Oh yes, I am proud to be an African-American, but that is actually saying that there is nothing at all wrong with being an African-American. My racial pride hinges on the fact that others need to be reminded that I have nothing to be ashamed of for being Black. Being Black is not a noteworthy accomplishment, it is quite simply what I was born to be. I thank the many that have fought to preserve my racial dignity, and I will never forget what they did to pave the way for my success in life.
But what I have personally accomplished in life as a military veteran, college professor, etc. is a result of living in a country that allowed me to be those things.
So, for me, I am more than content to be known as an American whom God created with African ethnicity, living in this great country called America.
What does the author mean by “American” as opposed to “African American?” Do you agree with the author’s point of view? Why or why not? Do you think the issue the author discussed is as important today as it was 20 years ago?