The first time I realized that I was "just another American" was probably one of the hardest lessons I've ever received as an adult.
From 2005-2006, I was deployed with the USS Theodore Roosevelt Strike Group to the Middle East Area of Operation. That meant that we were chasing pirates, getting side eyes from Middle Eastern and European locals, and turning up during port visits. During one of our port visits to Bahrain, I got the chance to get my hair braided by an African women, which I thought would be the highlight of my deployment.
First of all, these women from "the motherland" were insanely gorgeous, and I thought that while they did my hair, we would have some amazing conversations - I was black, they were black, and we were all magical women because our amazing melanin connected us.
Tuh! To make a long story short, they made it very, very clear that the only thing we shared in common was our skin tone, and even that was questionable. It was the most uncomfortable braiding session ever. The way they were acting, they only wanted my money, they provided me a service, and once they were finished they wanted me out of there. I couldn't get out of that shop fast enough.
But they weren't the only ones who felt that way. During every port visit, I was told time and time again that I was "just another American." Sometimes they were nice about it because I wore a uniform. Others hated me because I was alive and American. As a black woman whose family members were active fighters during the Civil Rights Movement, it hurt like hell hearing what foreigners thought about me. But what could I do about it besides hold myself to high standards, and hope that people would see my heart before my country's flag?
This is why I wasn't mad at all when The View co-host Whoopi Goldberg said that she was an "American" and not "African-American" a few days ago during the Hot Topics segment of the show.
If you haven't been in the know, Whoopi went on a rant about seeking refuge overseas because of Donald Trump's presidential bid. Lord knows most of us agrees with her on that subject!
But what she said next put some people off. She went into a passionate speech about being an American woman, and not an African-American woman. She said,
“You know what uh uh! This is my country...My mother, my grandmother, my great-grand folks, we busted ass to be here. I’m sorry. I’m an American. I’m not an African-American, I’m not a chick American, I’m an American!”
I know, I know. Some people probably feel like Whoopi is being a "coon" after spilling her guts on the subject. After all, the other View co-host Raven Symone got drug through the dirt when she said that she was "American" during her 2014 Oprah interview. And the people who were doing the dragging session had very valid points. "White" people, and those census surveys, see us as African-American, right? Well you're 100 percent correct.
But the other truth is that when you step outside of this country, you're "just another American." In today's tumultuous political climate, this could be a term of endearment in war torn countries. "Just another American" means we are rescuing someone's family from death. It means that we are feeding children who are facing their final hours because of malnutrition due to political struggle. During those times, I proudly stripped myself of being "African-American", and stood with my military brothers and sisters by following the orders of my Commander-in-Chief, no matter what I thought of his policies. During those times, the word African-American was far less important than being a human being, in my opinion.
To others, "just another American" is a badge of shame. To them, the flag I represent is synonymous with target practice. Those people could care less about my melanin, because the rhetoric or policies the Americans I fought for trumps what's in my heart. I was "just another American", and to them that was something I should truly hate.
When I set foot back in U.S. territory as a combat veteran, I came back with a new sense of honor. I am proud as hell of the contributions my ancestors made to my country. I feel dignified to be the daughter of slaves who broke their necks and backs to afford me with the opportunities that I have today, and I wouldn't change that for anything in the world. But I am also an American, and I'm honored to wear that title. Let me spell out what that means:
I honorably represented my country as I helped to feed dying families, as they made a dangerous voyage from Somalia to another land, knowing that they were going to be killed before they saw the sun set on the horizon. At that time, I was an American and a human being.
I proudly stood at attention and gave 11 of my 17 military brothers a final hand salute while a bugler played "Taps," as they were laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery following a deadly helicopter crash. At that time, I was a mother burying several women's sons who defended our country, and we were all Americans.
I held my head high, and let people of all colors in a social media group call me a "race baiting n-gger" and a "coon" - all at once - for reporting difficult stories when I was a social media editor for a major news corporation. To them, I wasn't worthy to be called a human being, but I was still an American.
[Tweet "Yes I'm a black woman, and I'm magical by right."]
But the American flag I've fought for and represent will never ever be a source of shame. I'm not fluid when I say I'm American. It is what I am, and if that makes you feel ashamed of me, then so be it.
As Fox 5 DC reporter Shawn Yancy said in a Facebook post on the subject,
"No... I'm not denying my roots. I know that at some point in my family tree, my ancestors were taken from Africa in the slave trade and sold here in America.
I'm not denying my culture by saying I'm not African American. I'm embracing myself and my culture... by declaring that I'm a proud American, who is also black."
I am both black and American, and I wear both with dignity, honor, and pride.
Watch the segment below, and tell us your thoughts.