It’s very late on Fourth of July, my neighbors have been enthusiastically shooting off fireworks for the past two days, and I want to talk a bit about patriotism in the context of America today.
I spent the afternoon marching in my local parade in support of a candidate for the US House of Representatives. We’re trying to flip my district from Republican to Democrat, and due to gerrymandering the odds honestly aren’t in our favor. It was hot, and humid, and between this and the Keep Families Together rally last weekend I would really like an indoor political event k thx.
As we marched, we chanted–fired up ready to go, variations on the candidate’s name, stuff like that. Every so often we’d also break into “USA! USA! USA!” It’s hard to get that enthusiastic about America as it exists right now (or as it ever has), but I am also deeply tired of allowing the Right to keep defining terms and claim the entire concept of patriotism.
At its most basic level, patriotism is a love of your home, when your home is something bigger than your immediate community. It’s the idea that you are a part of a group beyond the people that you personally know, and extending the compassion that you might more easily feel for family or people that you share a community or religion with. It is not unconditional, nor is it blindly unquestioning. It is a dream that says that together we can do better, together we ARE better, for isn’t it great that we live HERE?
I think it’s a good thing to care about your home, and it’s a good thing to define your home as something broader than your house. But where patriotism goes very wrong is when people start to act like they’re the only ones who live somewhere. That they’re the only ones who deserve a place. Of all people white Americans have no excuse for this nonsense, because guess what, go back far enough and your ancestor was an immigrant that wasn’t wanted. There’s a story in my family about my multi-great grandparents trying to emigrate from Ireland in the 1840s and their boat got turned away from every port along the eastern seaboard until finally they were allowed off at New Orleans. This is not an uncommon sort of story, but a lot of white people feel like they can just roll up the welcome mat. That isn’t patriotic, especially not for a country with a famous statue saying “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses…”
America has some great ideals that it has generally failed to live up to, and been terrible at applying to minorities of any sort, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to be better. We have to do better and I believe we can.