I have always identified with being “black” (and female) before my American identity. I can’t tell you that I know the reasoning behind this self portrait but I know that it is honest. And while I have never sat for the singing of the U.S. National Anthem, I can’t remember the last time I have placed my hand over my heart or sung the lyrics to the anthem (though I know every word) because I am aware that a good many of my countrymen and women would prefer that I and those who share my ethnicity were not here to share space in our native land. So no, I do not see myself as an “American” in the same way that many others do. However,
I too, am America
My mother was born here and her mother and her mother and her mother and likely HER mother. So my claim of being “from here” is solid.
Often, when I stand in salute to the U.S. flag, if the weight of how African Americans are treated in this country that I love is too much for me, I think of a different anthem that I also sang whilst growing up.
Lift ev’ry voice and sing,
Till earth and heaven ring.
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise,
High as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.
Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chast’ning rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet,
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
Here now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might,
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forgot Thee,
Shadowed beneath thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.
~ James Weldon Johnson
Never have these words held more meaning for me than they do now. Because now is the time to remember that we are a part of this American fabric. Every brown skin is a reminder that this country can and WILL live up to its creed.
We will not stop. We will continue call upon our better angels and fight the darkness that seeks to divide and devour us. We CAN do better by one another, but with will take great deal of work. One people, bound in love and committed to the advancement of our human race.
~Marta C. Youngblood