Understandably, the killing of Osama bin Laden unleashed strong emotions among Americans – relief, satisfaction, fears of retribution, denial, and even exuberance.
But, there was something distasteful about the raucous celebrations that took place outside the White House, in Times Square and at Ground Zero. The late night news coverage gave us a one-night affair of fists pumping in the air, jubilant cries of "USA! USA!," and demonstrators singing that famous post-game victory song "Na Na Na, Hey, Hey, Hey, Good-bye!"
The next morning, a Muslim Community Center in Portland, Maine reported that it had been attacked by graffiti artists overnight. Scrawled across the base of the building, which serves mainly Somali Muslims, were the words: "Osama Today, Islam Tomorrow" and "Long live the West." Those hateful words underscore the fact the war on terror is not over. And, neither is the war on ignorance and hate.
A week later, American Muslims have been given a chance to respond with a mix of relief, anxiety, and perhaps naïve hope that anti-Muslim sentiment will let up. There has also been a great deal of media buzz about whether or not the public celebrations among a small minority of people were appropriate.
One obvious point that has been missed in the commentary is that those celebrations were mostly devoid of Black people. The fact is that in Harlem and the Black sections of Brooklyn there were no spontaneous gatherings full of chanting, cussing, flag waving, chest bumping, carousing, and singing with strangers. There was no loud collective orgy of national pride and triumphalism in any other Black public squares across America.
Now, why is that?
It's not that Black Americans, whose patriotism is often undervalued, do not feel some of the same emotions as those who took to the streets last Sunday night. Our quiet response speaks to our long-held understanding of what struggle is – our domestic struggle as a marginalized community is ongoing. We know that the war is not over and that neutralizing Osama bin Laden was a goal but only as part of a war that is not over.
Perhaps Black America took its cue from President Obama's coolness about the ordeal. He did not, unlike his predecessor, descend atop a naval ship and declare "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED." Thursday's ceremony and quiet conversations with those directly affected by the 9-11 attacks speak to this fact. In fact, Black America's rather solemn response is actually congruent not only to the President, but of most White Americans.
I have to give the majority of White America its due. Those frat party celebrations overwhelming do not represent the norm reaction among most Americans, many of whom have been vocally critical of those spectacles. A plethora of outspoken liberal voices have aptly described what those scenes really represent – opportunistic pockets of America that see bin Laden's death as a reason to boost American exceptionalism and to reclaim hegemony on the world stage at a time of domestic instability and uncertainty.
Yet some pundits have that the raucous celebrations aren't a bad thing and that their triumphant nationalism is somehow healthy for our national psyche.
Garrett Quinn, a writer for the Boston Globe, illustrates my point:
"As Americans we've been down and out for a few years. The economy is in the tank, we're involved in three wars, we're in a severe budget crisis, and for the first time we are uncertain about our future as the world's lone superpower. This victory over our national enemy gave us a moment, however brief, to thump our chests, wave our flags, and shoot off fireworks. It gave us a moment to carouse with strangers and sing songs in crowded public spaces. Public Enemy Number One was vanquished and it was time to celebrate and feel good about ourselves. And there isn't a damn thing wrong with that."
Thankfully, our President, Black America and most of White America see it differently. The "triumphant nationalism" and arrogance is coming mostly from armchair pundits who haven't set foot on the battlefield or near a uniform. For the rest of us, we are resolute in our understanding that the struggle continues. We will have to battle the terrorists and those who wrongfully want to set us up as masters of the universe and thereby hated targets.
Stacey Patton is a writer for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.