Can you put a face to patriotism?
While the term “patriotic” can mean anything from displaying the American flag outside your home to supporting the troops, one thing remains clear: African-Americans have become increasingly disconnected from the values associated with mainstream America—and this decline has only accelerated since the September 11, 2001, terror attacks that not only changed the way all Americans thought about security, but also sent the country into an economic depression that leaders are still struggling to reverse.
In survey completed after the 9/11 terror attacks, researchers at the Pew Research Center asked a sample of African-Americans if they agreed with the statement “I am very patriotic.” In 2002, 88 percent of African-Americans polled strongly agreed. In 2004, that number dropped to 78 percent. In 2010, when asked if they were “proud to be an American,” only 36 percent of African-Americans said they were “extremely proud.” These findings were a divergence from whites polled, who maintained steadier averages between 2002 and 2010.
BET.com talked with Toni-Michelle Travis, a professor of government and politics at George Mason University in Washington and co-author of The Meaning of Difference: American Constructions of Race, Sex and Gender, Social Class, Sexual Orientation, and Disability, to find out why Blacks are turning away as the nation tries to come together.
BET.com: Can you provide some insight into why fewer African-Americans identify themselves as “patriotic,” and why post-9/11?
Toni-Michelle Travis: I would connect it with our view of the American dream and constant upward mobility. There just hasn’t been any upward mobility — in fact, it’s been mostly downward mobility for African Americans [after] that time period. The stock market/Wall Street crash was in autumn of 2008, and more Blacks have lost their homes, lost their jobs. The devastation for them is worse than for any other group perhaps, in terms of what this economy has been through. I don’t think [Blacks] feel that connected and patriotic.
As a professional who studies trends in race, gender and politics, is this downturn in morale something you expected to find?
I think very much so. [Blacks] were finally beginning to feel middle class and solidly middle class, because they were sold the idea that you should own a home, and you can have this and suburban life or whatever the “good life” is. They got involved with the housing market and found that their job would not sustain the mortgage — perhaps because the job evaporated or they’re making less and they can’t afford the lifestyle. I would love to see figures on downward mobility for African-Americans because I think it happens a lot more than it does for whites. Whites think, “Oh, I’ll go get another job, I’ve got college degrees, I’ve got connections,” and they’ll land on their feet, maybe not making quite as much, but the downward part isn’t as dramatic. For Blacks, I think it has really hit hard.
Although the economy has rebounded in some areas, Black unemployment in the United States remains at an all-time high. Do you see this sentiment of separation from American ideals persisting for Blacks in the future?
I think we’re going to see it persisting and that Blacks are going to be more detached from what the media puts out as “he American dream.” This is not going to be for them. We’d like to be those people living that lifestyle, but it’s not realistic. I’m thinking about the people going to community colleges, trying to get the tech training to be in the medical field and soforth; they’re told that’s where the jobs are. And they’re going as fast as they can get there but there are so many thousands of people who are never going to get the training for the type of job market we’re in now.
In recent months there has been an onslaught of Black politicians speaking out and putting President Obama on notice about these issues. In our post-9/11 world, do you think there will be further ideological shifts in the Black community, such as shifting from traditionally Democrat affiliation to a more conservative one?
There may be more Independents. Some of the young people are Republicans. I certainly have met students who are African-American Republicans but they know no history — which is tragic — as to why people might not be Republican today who are Black. I think what worries me is the youth. We’re producing all of these people — high school drop-outs, people who aren’t going to finish college because of lack of money, people that aren’t going to have skills for this job market — and that number is going to grow. And that’s where you have to watch for what the government or the president or anybody is going to do, because that’s what becomes explosive when you start talking about another long, hot summer..
(Photo: Justin Sullivan/GettyImages)