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Ventura County Perspective | PERSPECTIVE ON PATRIOTISM

An African American Reflects on the Fourth

In 1776, blacks were still enslaved in this country. The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of 1964 were, in a sense, their true declarations of independence.

July 05, 1998|THERON C. COLBERT | Theron C. Colbert, an electrical engineer, is a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy stationed at Point Mugu Naval Air Weapons Station

As we celebrate our nation's 222nd birthday this weekend, I'd like to offer some thoughts on what it means to me to be an American and why I have chosen to serve in the military for the past 14-plus years.

While watching John Singleton's "Boyz N the Hood" the other night on television, I thought back to when I first saw this movie several years ago in a theater. During the scene in which actor Laurence Fishburne tells his young son, referring to Vietnam, "A black man has no reason to serve in a white man's army," some of my fellow moviegoers applauded and even yelled out, "That's right!"

Even back then, I thought to myself, "How sad for these people to think like that, to be supporting such misguided words."

Yes, it's true that many black Americans feel they have no reason to support an allegedly racist government and country. But I believe it's more likely that many black parents just didn't want their sons to go to some far off place and get killed--for any reason.

This statement presupposes that this country somehow "belongs" to white Americans only. The ancestors of most black Americans have been here just as long, if not longer, as those of most whites. And I venture to say that it would be quite a challenge for anyone to argue whose ancestors worked harder or sacrificed more to build up this country and make it the strongest economic and military power in the world.

I'd also dare to speculate that most black Americans stood to lose just as much, if not more, than many white Americans if this country had not interceded in the international wars it has participated in, from World War I and II and Korea to Desert Storm.

Much has been reported and written about how black GIs in past wars were fighting for a country and a military that did not accept or even want them. And how upon returning from war, they came back to a society that still chose to reject them.

Although it is quite unfortunate that events such as these have happened all too often, they let the people of this country know that black soldiers, sailors and Marines could be counted upon for their support and sacrifice when needed.

Black American servicemen and women continue this tradition today. I find it ironic that while blacks account for a disproportionately high percentage of those involved in the justice system (and are thus often thought of as criminals) they also account for a disproportionately high percentage of those in the military service--yet they are not thought of as being patriotic.

Blacks are patriotic, all right. Very much so. But we are in a way that most small-minded people, black or white, would find difficult to comprehend.

I will admit that when it comes to the Fourth of July, I don't think much about the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. And I also don't think much about Thomas Jefferson, George Washington or other members of our nation's first Continental Congress.

Like many other black Americans, I view Independence Day sort of like most Americans view Columbus Day. Oh sure, everyone takes the day off, all right. But it seems to me as if this holiday does not carry any significant meaning to most Americans (except maybe for those who live in Columbus--Ohio, Texas, Georgia, Indiana, etc). Most Americans are intelligent enough to realize that it's nonsense to celebrate the "discovering" of a land that was already inhabited by millions of people who spoke their own languages, had their own governments and territories established and which had already been "discovered" by Africans and other Europeans long before Columbus' time.

As everyone knows, in 1776 blacks were still enslaved in this country. And even after America's "independence" from England, slave traders continued to bring millions more blacks from Africa. So, if you think about it, it really doesn't make much sense for black Americans to feel a spirit of celebration on the Fourth of July.

To most black Americans, our "independence" didn't come in 1776 or even in 1863 with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. To some, it didn't come until about 100 years after that.

The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of 1964 were, in a sense, our first true documents of liberation. Mainly because of the volatile and controversial era in which they were signed.

When most Americans hear the phrase "Let Freedom Ring," they think of our patriotic song "America." But when I hear it, I tend to think of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech. Medgar Evers was our Nathan Hale--one of our first and most prominent soldiers to be executed in the revolution to come.

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