Why Don't We Want What We Fought for? Some Blacks Renounce America Because of Its Ugly History of Racism. I Believe They're Missing the Point

By Phillips, Joseph C. | Newsweek, April 8, 2002 | Go to article overview

Why Don't We Want What We Fought for? Some Blacks Renounce America Because of Its Ugly History of Racism. I Believe They're Missing the Point


Phillips, Joseph C., Newsweek


Byline: Joseph C. Phillips

A few days after September 11, I raised my flag alongside the dozens that were already flying in my neighborhood. As my 4-year-old son looked on, I explained that we were hanging our flag because we were proud to be Americans.

A week later at the Chicago Black Expo, I presented an award to a former Marine for his contributions to the black community. I was shocked when, after accepting it, he turned to the audience and delivered a diatribe about America that covered everything from slavery to hanging chads, then declared that he would never wear the flag or fly it at his home.

I was further troubled when, a few days later, I read a newspaper account of black firefighters in Florida who refused to ride on their fire engine while it flew the American flag. And I was perplexed by the statements made by people like columnist Julianne Malveaux: "We have to decide if this is our war [in Afghanistan]." Alicia Keys: "I see lies in that flag." Al Sharpton: "Black people don't owe America anything."

Why do some blacks feel comfortable voicing sentiments that are anti-American at their core? And why aren't there equally fervent black voices denouncing them?

Anti-nationalism is not new in the black community. For black Americans active in the civil-rights movement of the 1960s, it was only natural to reject a flag that represented a legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. Though times have changed, it is not surprising that blacks who came of age in the '60s would be prone to spouting anti-American rhetoric. What baffles me is hearing it from the mouths of the younger generation.

Alicia Keys, for instance, is hardly a poster child for the repressed black masses. On the contrary: she represents a generation that has never suffered the indignities of Jim Crow and who currently enjoys more opportunity and wealth than most people of any color anywhere in the world.

Last January my father-in-law attended a Martin Luther King Day program at his city's convention center. While a man in full military dress sat on the dais, a black high-school student delivered a fiery speech vilifying America and condemning the war on terrorism. The 3,000 mostly black audience members applauded the speaker and nodded in agreement. No doubt there were those in attendance who disagreed, but they sat in silence. …

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