National Identity & National Consciousness

My book on Greek diglossia just came and I’ve been reading it. Interestingly, Greek national identity came from religion rather than common descent or language, the usual markers of nationality. That was because the “Greeks” were one of the millets of the Ottoman Empire. For that reason, various ethnicities could become Greek, i.e. Greek was not an ethnic group. Christianity and identifying with Greekness were the criteria for being Greek. You could be Slavic or Aromanian or Albanian as long as you espoused the Greek cause.
That got me to thinking about the discussion in the grouplet about the place of African-Americans in our own society. One commonality popped out to me as I read over the many characteristics of national identity offered: the role of the intellectuals and elites. Could this be why elitist intellectuals like W.E.B. DuBois loom so large in any discussion of African-American identity? Could an African-American reasonable consider himself an American in the reign of Jim Crow and segregated army units? Almost all did, of course, despite a Marcus Garvey here and an Elijah Poole there. But why is it that Black people in this country ferociously identify as American? Since the sixties African-American intellectuals have held forth on this issue.
As a child, I was aware of many comments by people in my circle indicating that Black people were not considered “normal” people. In fact, Police Chief Parker of the LAPD once remarked that Blacks were more susceptible to injury in a choke hold than “normal people”. That was not a slip. A colleague of mine said of African-Americans, “Well, they are different.” He was very fat and I had an urge to say, “In a comparison of you to my wife, I’d say my wife is the normal one and you are the one who is different.”
The eagerness of all minorities to fight for the country was highlighted in the first Godfather movie where Michael enlisted for WW II and the “Family” was shocked. My dad, first generation Italian-American, and my father-in-law, African-American, both enlisted. That was supposed to be the path to acceptance, except it never worked for African-Americans; my father-in-law, trained as an aircraft mechanic, could find work only as a school janitor. If anyone knows of a good book on national identity and national consciousness of African-Americans, let me know, I’d like to read it.

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