Black folk have a complex relationship with patriotism. I've always been somewhat suspicious of flag-wavers, but in the last couple of years I'll have to admit that my relationship to patriotism has evolved. First, my cousin Larry gave me the military flag from the funeral of my grandfather's brother, Uncle Harry. Second, by visiting Gettysburg and the White House of the Confederacy, and researching and writing about the Civil War and Reconstruction in my new book Stealing Democracy, I've come to appreciate some of the more noble values embraced by the Union during the Civil War (I also appreciate that many were not noble--which contributes to the complexity of the patriotism of Black folk). Third, I invest much of my time into working to protect and expand voting rights in the United States. These three factors have brought me to the conclusion that I've got as much right as most to articulate the normative values to which America should aspire.
When one thinks about it, the fact that so many Blacks volunteered to serve for a country that was systematically and brutally oppressing them is nothing short of amazing (same for Japanese-Americans in WWII). They made what in some cases was the ultimate sacrifice for a country that would spit in their eye when they came home. And yet still, they rose.
This Memorial Day, I ask that we remember all of our veterans, especially those who were fighting for all Americans.