(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 third interview in the series, we spoke to Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), who says the most patriotic part of her job is talking to the parents of soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice and paying tribute to those in military service.
The Root: What’s the most patriotic aspect of your work?
Terri Sewell: As a member of Congress, perhaps the most patriotic act of my job is talking to parents of fallen soldiers and honoring our veterans on Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Nothing brings home the patriotism of my job more than honoring our servicemen and -women who have sacrificed so much for our country.
I would be remiss not to mention the African-American servicemen and -women who, during World War II, were fighting for democracy overseas while the enemy of prejudice and inequality awaited them at home. I am humbled by the fact that these men and women are just being honored today for the sacrifices they made during World War II. There is no greater honor than being able to bestow upon these servicemen and -women, my constituents, the Congressional Gold Medal as I have been able to do while serving in Congress.
TR: What, if anything, makes African Americans’ relationship with patriotism unique?