Karmen Jones

For the majority of our generation’s lives, our country has been in various military conflicts with countries abroad. Today, the nation’s main conversation surrounds rumors of war with Iran.

Being raised by a military officer of high rank, my father instructed me to value my blackness first and my country second. Both identities intersect and require me to stay true to both, but conversations become increasingly more difficult as more African Americans are murdered by police and comments from our Commander and Chief of our armed forces continue to provoke violence and white supremacy in our nation.

Black people cannot help but ask the question, “Is America really at her best state?”

After repeated incidents of police brutality, in September 2016, Colin Kaepernick knelt in protest of the national anthem. My family and I watched and felt black pride of his public acknowledgement that our country’s system was and still is unproportionally deadly for its black citizens. The majority called his actions “unamerican” and a direct disgrace for our military and police officers, but no one ever considered or cared where black military families stood in the debate.

From my conflicting inner desire to not be perceived as “unamerican” while also fearing and knowing that I share the same features that incriminated and murdered Sandra Bland, I sought wisdom from my father. He, a man who witnessed Klan demonstrations in Arkansas and Taliban attacks in Afghanistan, made his position clear, “We fight to protect America from overseas so that you all can improve life for all Americans here inside of her borders.”

My father also reminded me that his military status did not act as a veil over his blackness or exclude him from being personally harassed by police officers. He assured me that black protest could never be a threat to our country’s morals, because our people have always challenged notions of what true Americans do.

I reflected on those moments when African Americans decided change was not dependent on the majority giving permission for it to occur. Black soldiers, such as the Tuskegee Airmen, often came home from foreign war sites only to return back to a country that endangered them to lynching and deadly discrimination.

While soldiers, including my own grandfather, were called to fight in the Vietnam War, black activists boycotted and worked to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1963 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. All of these acts redefined what American movements were just and patriotic causes.

As the granddaughter and daughter of great and honorable black men, I now understand that it is my responsibility as an African American and yours as the American reader to readjust our own standard of what true Americans do for their country. If change comes by the means of neglecting party affiliations, generational ideas of ignorance or individual privilege, it is a challenge in which Americans can take on together. Whether we arrived to this nation by choice or force, honest Americanism comes from all of us.

Karmen Jones is a junior majoring in English rhetoric with a minor in Africana studies. She can be reached at kjone169@vols.utk.edu.

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