Ta-Nehisi Coates‘ article, “American Girl” and his 2 part video (part 1 and part 2) discussion of the article got me to thinking about my own American-ness vs. blackness and the extent to which they are or are not mutually exclusive. Coates examines Obama’s (Michelle, that is) childhood and rearing on Chicago’s south side against the back drop of the statement she made last February that critics used to paint her as an unpatriotic Angry Black woman.
My American-ness and blackness are not mutually exclusive, but indelibly linked. I refuse to parse out aspects of myself or give priority to one marker over the other. Some people I encounter might do this sort of filtering in order to label me based on their preconceived notions of what a true American is or is not. I know American history well and the way race based oppression has made some groups feel like second-class citizens. This second-class citizen status has been adopted by some in the black community such that there is an “Us” vs. “Them” mentality. Even after Barack Obama clinched the Democratic nomination and finally the overwhelming mandate from Americans to become the President-Elect, I heard some say this win made “them” angry. The translation of “them” is white people. My uncle made this very statement during our Christmas Eve breakfast gathering. I disputed him by saying that many whites voted for Barack Obama and that he could not have won without a great number of white votes. Though he agreed with my statement, he maintained that “they” were angry. Another family member said that “they” gave the presidency to him because America was in such a bad shape and no one else wanted it. I argued that no one gave him anything. He was able to articulate that the unique challenges America faced needed a new kind of leadership. I recognized that my argument could be seen as bolstering what he was contending: That a black man could only win if everything was already going to pot. An article with this line of thinking was posted on The Root last year. I demurred and expressed that there may have been a different outcome if there had been no economic crisis.
It is obvious that those who espouse the “Us” vs. “Them” mentality don’t feel fully vested in America. While I understand why some blacks (in this case) would feel this way, I believe this historic election represents a sea change in America. The “Us” vs. “Them mentality is dangerous because it robs the “Us” of their agency while bestowing “Them” with total power that is false. All Americans need to be fully vested in the American dream and partners in democracy. I am proud that the next First Lady believes in America. Hopefully her presence on the national stage will help to break down this “Us” vs. “Them” mentality.