(The Root) — A lot has changed since 1903, when W.E.B. Du Bois described black Americans as possessing what he called a “double consciousness,” caught between a self-conception as Americans and as people of African descent. As he put it in The Souls of Black Folk: “The Negro ever feels his two-ness-an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings … two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”
Fast-forward 110 years later. We have a black president and a disappearing white majority on the one hand, and persistent, systemic racial inequality and all-too-common overt bigotry on the other. Meanwhile, in a major blow to civil rights, the Supreme Court just gutted the legislation that was designed to protect African Americans’ right to vote. And the entire country is watching to see how our criminal-justice system will impart justice for Trayvon Martin, who many believe lost his life simply because he was black.
In an interview series commemorating Independence Day, The Root checked in with a diverse group of leaders and thinkers to get their take on what’s changed and what hasn’t — and what it means to be black, American and patriotic in 2013.
For the second interview in the series, we spoke to Maj. Gen. Marcia Anderson, deputy chief of the Army Reserve, who says more Americans should view public service as a privilege.
The Root: What, if anything, makes African Americans’ relationship with patriotism unique?
Marcia Anderson: African Americans have been making significant contributions to America’s arts, sciences, literature, industry, academia and other aspects of its culture for hundreds of years. Many say that serving in the U.S. military reveals a great deal about one’s patriotism. Throughout our country’s history, black men and women have fought to form and preserve our Union, and to promote the ideals of freedom, justice and security, even when their own nation denied them these privileges.
Although only [13 percent] of the population of the United States, African Americans make up more than 20 percent of our active-duty force and 22 percent of the Army Reserve. Our Army has come a long way in the struggle for equality, and we owe our successes today to the black service members of the past who continued to step forward to serve their country, even when their country failed to uphold their rights.
Like the flag on the shoulder of every soldier, today’s Army brings together the strengths and experience of soldiers of many races to create an enduring testament to hope, valor, service and liberty. African Americans have earned the right to be considered “patriots.”