Thursday, July 4, 2013

I, Too, Sing America: Thoughts on the Fourth of July

I, Too, Sing America

 by Langston Hughes
I,too,sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"

They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

I am a man with a double consciousness.

In the Souls of Black Folks, W.E.B. DuBois wrote,
"It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One 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.
The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife — this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He does not wish to Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He wouldn't bleach his Negro blood in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face.”
 I remember rising early on a warm summer day, grabbing the flag, going on the roof of our home, and unfurling the flag to wave in glory. My years as a Boy Scout taught me how to care for the flag.

I remember hearing my paternal grandfather, an immigrant from Barbados, proudly proclaim, “ I am an American.” I remember hearing the stories of his struggle to come to this country and arriving on Ellis Island. Later he sent for his wife, and eventually built a home where my father was born in, and I and my sisters were raised.

I also remember hearing stories from my  maternal grandmother; stories about her journey from Virginia to New York to flee the inhumanity of Jim Crow. Raised by her grandparents who were borne into slavery, she manifested a fierce commitment to the freedom of black people. She raised her children with a deep allegiance to the freedom struggle. I remember her leading us into a southern restaurant a few days after Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act to prove to her family and impress on her young grandson  that we had the right to be there and to be served.

From both sides of my family I received lessons about  freedom, about the history of oppressed people to obtain their liberation, and this country's obligation to fulfil its ancient promise of freedom for all its inhabitants. Both sides of my family came to these shores in boats, one side willingly, the other side in shackles. Both sides of my family held onto the promise of America even though America refused to embrace their full humanity and potential. 

So I approach each Fourth of July with weariness and determination; wearied by the never ending struggle and determined by the eternal promise. Like Langston Hughes, I, too, am America.

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