My favorite word these days seems to be “nuance” and my favorite people are those who point it out to me or help me see more of it. Because it appears to me that nuance has become an undervalued commodity in an age where we deplore British Petroleum but drive SUVs and leave lights on galore; hate the paparazzi and tabloids but inhale the latest about those crazy celebs and their nutty lives; and shake our heads at those zealous Middle Easterners and their constant blood feuds without retracing history to understand why.
We want to live in a black and white world of good versus evil, right versus wrong, and saved versus damned. But the absence of nuance has gotten us all into quite a pickle. Reality is almost never cut and dried, it doesn’t come in 30-second sound bites, and the way out of the mess we seem to be in is neither easily understood or executed.
The problem is that people are too used to it the other way. You can go from hardship to ease relatively easily, but don’t you dare talk to anyone about tightening the belt or giving up the comforts and amenities we are all used to. Because most of us feel entitled to them. And will kick and scream our way into the abyss to protect our “rights.”
The Fourth of July is almost upon us Americans and I will count myself among most of you because I am, after all, a naturalized American citizen and have now lived here for most of my life. And in celebration of the birth of our country, I would like to submit that to think of the collective rather than the individual is not un-American. And to consider the best for all rather than a few is not unpatriotic. In fact, I think selfishness is un-American. Greed is unpatriotic. And to continue to perpetuate disunity and divisiveness is a crime against national security.
How’s that for nuance?
Happy birth of our country.
6 thoughts on “Letter from an American Patriot”
I do not celebrate Independence Day. Simply put, my ancestors were still enslaved when the country celebrated its freedom from Britain. This holiday is the epitome of hipocrisy.
Everything this country fought for, it did not see fit to apply to the people it owned as slaves.
A prominent black attorney who had also written a book about his ancestry in the U.S. and his own patriotism once gave a talk at my law school. In his speech, he talked about how a black person can reconcile being a patriot with our history in this country. His conclusion was that Blacks can and should take pride in our part in building this country. Our labor, however forced, provided the foundation for this country’s status as a superpower. Our intelligence so beautifully designed and built the nation’s capital. Our contribution mattered–indeed, it was indispensable– whether people acknowledge it or not. When I think about my own patriotic feelings, or lack thereof, I remember his words.
It would be disingenuous of me to say that I celebrate the fourth. Rather, I take advantage of the opportunity to visit with family and friends. All the same, I have to admit that I have love for this country; its the only country I can really call home. And, like James Baldwin, I criticize the US because I love her, and believe in what she can become. So, to the extent that I “celebrate” tomorrow, I’ll be celebrating the potential of the United States; celebrating her idea, even if she hasn’t yet become what we want her to be.
Awesome post, Nazie.
I guess I’m not sure how we can take pride in something like that. I think there is a difference between wanting acknowledge ment for the contributions, and then taking pride in being slaves building buildings for free, with no means of achieving freedom. There is no pride in being a slave. I hear the point though, and I think Black folks should definitely be recognized and blow the horn to get more recognition for our ancestors’ contributions. They just did that whole tihng at the capitol, finally acknowledging the work of the slaves. I cant say, however, that it was a “proud” moment, yanno?
Yes, we laid the foundation, but to what end? With what reward? A biracial, non-slave descendent president 143 years later? Schools that are still separate and grossly unequal? Housing disparaties akin to apartheid? Disproportionate poverty and judicial penalization? a deteriorating family structure?
Maybe its just hard for me to se ethe good from the bad. Maybe if I were from a different country, and my family came over here within the last 2-3 generations, I might have a different perspective. I know many of my friends and colleagues who have this experience do seem to have a different POV regarding America (not saying any of you lol). My paternal family has that experience and they dont/didnt really do a lot of complaining. They worked hard and celebrated being “American” like everyone else.
First, I don’t believe in patriotism. It’s a farce, a luck of the draw. I’m here, in this country, because my soul took up residence in this body and was born to the two people called my parents, who happened to live in Philadelphia, a city on this land mass called North America which was conquered and inhabited by some white folks hundreds of years back and called it the United States of America. Could have been someone else. My soul could have landed somewhere else.
Second, like Benee said, on a more practical, physical, biological, historical level, this country has never loved me, so I don’t feel especially loving back to her. I think it’s crazy the way the world is divided up. I think nationalism is an evil thing.
I’m a hypocrite in many ways, however, because I fully take advantage of my citizenship. I would never denounce it, constantly talk about my “rights,” and will cry bloody murder if I feel that my American-ness is being trampled upon by any state actor. If I ever get involved in anything overseas, I will expect the full force of the US government to come to my aid.
Independence day? I don’t know if I’m independent, but I like the 4th nevertheless, because I like street fairs and fireworks and now that I live in California, going to the beach (although won’t be doing that this year.)
Great points, Toya, about luck of the draw. The dean of my law school was bold enough to say it to students at graduation this past May: “make no mistake, although hard work had a part in getting you here, you are benefitting from the luck of your birth.” I thought students where gonna throw their caps at her. LOL!
This is also an interesting question about nationalism, and whether it’s a good or bad thing. I don’t have a final conclusion, but there’s no denying that “love of country” has led to so many of the bitter conflicts that dot human history.
I also hear you, Benee, about the difference between love and acknowledgment. I don’t know if there’s pride in being a slave; you can’t take pride in something you didn’t choose to become. But you might take pride in how you dealt with the difficult circumstances in which you were placed. After everything Blacks in America have been through (and are still going through), sometimes I think it’s a miracle we’re still here. There might be pride in perseverance, and in making a contribution even as others would try and destroy you.
I agree with that last sentence and was going to add something to that end in my original comment.