On Feb. 24, the lecture “The Challenge of Black Patriotism,” presented by Theodore Johnson, closed out Mount St. Mary’s Black History Month events.
This lecture questioned how might a Black American be so patriotic for their country but treated badly in return. Johnson answered this question by using the example of an enslaved black man, who escaped from his slave master and fought in the war for 10 months. Those who had fought in the war for a specific amount of time were supposed to receive a pension post war. The enslaved man had fought in the war long enough to receive a pension, so he went to the courthouse and did his due diligence. The enslaved man had not received a response after two years, he eventually was told he could not be awarded for his services because he had escaped from his master to join the war and was considered property.
Johnson continued, stating that the enslaved man had a “willingness to die for an independence he would never touch.” The enslaved man had even apologized to his master and promised to pay his master back his own worth in the time that he was fighting in the war.
While Black Americans are no longer slaves to their white counterparts, the dynamic Johnson depicted is still alive today. Class president, Emily Jansen (C’22), agreed with Johnson’s depiction, “He put into words what I’ve been seeing got a long time, how you can love this country but also recognize how far we have left to go.”
Johnson’s description of the enslaved man’s willingness to die for a country that did not love him back is what he calls superlative citizenship. Superlative citizenship, as described by Johnson, “is what a person is willing to do to meet all their obligations required by the state, even when the state, the nation state of the government, is not fulfilling its responsibility based on the social contract.”
One of the most patriotic things one can do for their country is die for it, but how can it be patriotic to love and institution that does not love you back? The idea of superlative citizenship, in this context, exposes the country for what it is and what it claims to be. Black history and Black History Month, for example, are often described as a gift to black people, but it is not. This is the way to insert ourselves into the nation’s story – to make it more complete.
A nation state is not a sentient being and does not have a sense of morality. Structural racism, found in the society we live, is not something that people do to one another, but it is what the country is built off. Structural racism is a crime of the state because it harms everyone, not just people of color.
As a nation state comprised of many different races, ethnicities and religions of individuals, Johnson believes a way we can progress is to “see color and find bonds of solidarity” in that. As this nation is built on a corrupted system, negatively biased towards people of color, nothing good can come from it.