What Real Patriotism Looks Like
How the story of the Navy's first Black aviator makes us reflect on the meaning of patriotism
This article took many, many hours to write in addition to watching the film and reading the book. I can only invest this kind of time because of people like you who support this newsletter. Please consider becoming a paid subscriber today!
I had never heard the story of Jesse L. Brown, the Navy’s first Black aviator, until a few weeks ago.
I had the opportunity to screen the Sony Pictures film, “Devotion,” about his life’s story. The movie stirred up a lot of feelings for me—including outrage at how Brown had to struggle against racism every moment of his military service. It also made me ponder what true patriotism looks like.
“Devotion,” which takes place during the Korean War, dovetails with the experience of Black soldiers in World War II. A new book, Half-American: The Epic Story of African Americans Fighting World War II at Home and Abroad, by Matthew Delmont uncovers the under-examined contributions of Black soldiers in the war.
I got to write about both the film and the book in this article for CNN. Read an excerpt below…
“Devotion” and “Half American” are crucial offerings at this moment in our history. The work of storytellers and historians reflects the fact that exclusion of stories like Brown’s and countless other Black troops implicitly defines who counts as a true patriot.
The conventional historical record tends to valorize a sort of Captain America image of devotion to nation – a vigorous White man whose military service is not only valued but heralded.
Where, then, does that leave the Black soldier? What is the place for people such as Brown, who fought racism every day of his military service and sacrificed all for his country?
What is the place in of Black soldiers in World War II whose uniforms at home did not make them heroes but made them targets for racial terrorism?
What is the place for people like my uncle who wanted to serve his country and live out his dreams of being a pilot, only to be dismissed because of his race?
In spite of his disappointment with the military, my uncle still served faithfully for four years. I’m not sure if my uncle ever knew Brown’s story, but if he did, I hope the pilot was an inspiration to him to hold the line in the war for Black dignity.
True patriotism is not unquestioning devotion to one’s country. True patriotism demonstrates devotion by relentlessly demanding one’s country live up to its stated ideals. In this sense, Black soldiers have been some of the most devoted, if unheralded, patriots this nation has ever seen.
Read the full article HERE.