July 5, 2010

It rarely fails to amaze me how, despite the nation's checkered history when it comes to race, African Americans are, for the most part, ready to forgive, even if we collectively won't forget.

I was on my way downtown for dinner on Independence Day last year, hop-scotching from one mode of public transit to another, when I landed on the Green Line around sundown -- right about the time people began heading to the traditional Independence Day concert/fireworks show down at the Mall. the train was gradually getting more crowded, about equally divided among black and white -- somewhat unusual for that stretch of the Metro and that time of the evening.

I noticed a few mixed-race couples, including a young brother with dreads.  He sat next to what I surmised was his white girlfriend, a pretty brunette. they'd chat, she'd smile, they'd chat some more.

at one stop, a tall white dude got on with what by my observation was his African American love interest: a tall, striking young woman with loose curls, mod glasses and a big bright smile.  eavesdropping on their conversation, I couldn't tell if they had been dating long, but they seemed to have an easy rapoire that reminded me of the way it was back when The X was The Scribe, and we were still dating. and neither of us was angry. and we both were still optimistic.

but what captured my attention most on this Metro ride was a young black family seated across the aisle.

she was a thirtyish, heavy-set woman in denim shorts and T-shirt, neatly coiffed, processed hair.  her roughneck-looking boyfriend -- squat and powerfully built, bearded, black shorts, black shirt, baseball brim pulled low over dark sunglasses even though the sun had nearly set -- and what I concluded was their young daughter, a toddler about age two.  she was a gorgeous kid: well-groomed, with smooth brown skin, clear ebony eyes and shiny tight braids fastened with multi-colored barretes.

they didn't appear to be of great means, and I couldn't tell if the man and woman were married.

but what caught my eye was their clothes, and how... well, ... patriotic they were.

Mom was wearing a T-shirt with a red, white and blue, star-spangled flag motif. and her daughter was similarly decked out in denim shorts and a T-shirt that said, "I'm an American Cutie." Judging from the time and direction of travel -- south, at sunset on the Green Line, which stops at the National Mall -- it wouldn't have surprised me if they were headed to watch the Independence Day fireworks.

it's always struck me as -- amazing isn't quite the right word, and interesting is a little too flat; I guess fascinating will have to do -- when I realize how proud we black people are of our country, its checkered past notwithstanding.

I mean, even after that whole slavery and Civil War thing, relatively few of us turned our backs on our nation, despite 400 good reasons to do so.  Then there was Jim Crow and segregation; Martin and Malcolm and Medger; Cheney, Schwerner, Goodwin; Reagan, Rehnquist and now Roberts.  Through it all, somehow, African Americans at large have not collectively held a grudge against the nation that oppressed us, a resentment that could have lead us -- and our nation -- to an even darker place.

for some reason, we believed in the promise of America, despite, as Martin once put it, having received a bad check marked "insufficient funds."  More than once, it turns out.

even though we're more likely to die at a younger age here than our white counterparts, are paid less, can't get the same level of health care, have lower test scores and poorer schools, are more likely to live in poverty, have higher stress levels, aren't playing on a level field, dont have ... well, you get my drift.

after all that, we still love this place.

then again, we also still love Michael Jackson. and OJ Simpson.


at the Independence Day parade that afternoon with Sweetie, my 11-year-old daughter, and Bucky, her 7-year-old brother, I saw an older brother in a cowboy hat, sporting not one but two American flags in the crown. Every fourth or fifth black person sported the flag on a T-shirt. others were cooling themselves with flag fans. even on workaday afternoons, it's becoming less rare for a brother to sport a flag pin in his lapel.

good enough for Barack, the sentiment appears, good enough for me.

a few weeks ago, I was listening to This American Life when one of the segments began retelling the story of Brandon Darby, a white dude who fancied himself a leftist radical, and began working outside the system to help poor, disenfranchised black people in New Orleans. after yielding results, he took his work to the next level, and tried to stir insurrection among the people, urging tem to help in the violent overthrow of the US government.  or at least snitch.

one would think that post-Katrina New Orleans would be fertile ground for anti-government fomenting. no such luck for the protagonist.

one by one, Darby struck out, according to the story. people who had every incentive to turn against a government that had all but forgotten them after an apocalyptic, once-in-a-generation event, refused to take up arms against said government -- and not just out of fear of losing their lives or ending up in prison.

What's odd, Darby said, is that the black people he failed to recruit "didn't see America as evil or in need of overthrow. some of them said, 'man, I got a brother in the Army. I can't do that.' some of them said, 'dude, you're out your mind. I love my country.' "

that, it seemed, was the overwhelming sentiment: the country that fucked us over so much and so often is still ours, kind of like Michael Jackson, who obviously had is own problems with being black -- and the means to try and change it. Like Jackson, America belongs to us, even if it doesn't always act like it.
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