The situation in Ferguson has me thinking about what my nationality as an American means to me. Does it mean anything to me? Should it mean anything to me? And if so, how do I reconcile any pride I may or may not have in being American with the history of my country devaluing myself and those who came before me and the reality that more than 200 years later, my country still does not value me as more than 3/5 human, let alone a citizen whose roots in this country extend to its beginnings? My heritage is part of the American heritage. I am descended from those who literally built this country from the ground up but this is not recognized, by the government nor my fellow Americans.
I receive constant reminders everyday from multiple outlets that I and those I share this heritage with are not as important to my country because of the color of our skin. So is there a place for patriotism despite this? And if so, how far does my patriotism go? Do I see my country in the most favorable light? Or do I love my country despite its faults? Do I love what my country is now or what it could be in the future?
Whether I feel patriotism or not, the reality is I am American. No matter what I will never be able to divorce myself from that fact, not just because it is where I come from but my being American affects my perspective, my behavior and my outlook. Being American, just like any nationality affects the way we see things. At no time do I feel this more than when I travel. But awareness that I am American does not automatically translate into love for a country that assesses it’s citizens worth by their skin color.
Some say “no country is perfect” “there is racism everywhere,” “love what our country can be”, “fight for the change you want”. Indeed no country is perfect, there is racism everywhere and there is dignity in fighting for the change you want, loving your country enough to fight for what it can be in the future. And many Americans, black, white, Hispanic and Asian have done so, and sacrificed their lives for it.
But no other country holds itself as the “greatest country in the world”, no other country holds itself as the paragon for perfection and attempts to use this “perfection” to dictate how other countries conduct themselves while committing the very wrongs other nations are criticized for.
Within our nation, contradictions abound reveal America’s dubious and sometimes twisted nature. The United States remains one of the largest economies in the world, with more resources than most yet our government literally functions on keeping certain people down based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, even as other countries make strides in all these areas–yet we claim we are the best. The phrase “freedom and justice for all” remains one of the cornerstones of the American way yet children are put on trial for their own murders–as if to say they might have deserved it. But it is not just the government. The same indifference exhibited by the government exists with the people. Yes the killing of Michael Brown has outraged Americans of all races, but it has also highlighted the racial division that still plagues us.
This is not to say patriotism and the awareness of a country’s problems are mutually exclusive. Other nationalities may be more or less patriotic than Americans but American patriotism combines ordinary love for a country with the belief that we are unmatched in liberty, morality and decency when what has happened in Ferguson proves anything but. A further reality is that Ferguson, Missouri is just a microcosm for America’s state on its lack of reconciliation with its layered heritage. Racism no matter the form, is repugnant and morally dangerous. But in no other country does it cost an individual his or her life, all while the country holds itself as an epitome for goodness with no room for self-reflection.
I respect the contributions of those who’ve given their lives in hopes that future generations might live a better life than previous generations but I refuse to sacrifice my life or that of those close to me for an ideal that might come to fruition tomorrow when devaluation as it exists in America could be fatal today. Especially as other countries evidence the obvious, that the United States is NOT the greatest nation in the world.
So if patriotism means that I hold my country as the greatest on earth, even while it fatally devalues me and those who share my heritage then no. I am not patriotic and to be so under these circumstances is lunacy. But I acknowledge who I am as an American citizen and the lens it gives me to see the world. I take pride in my heritage as someone descended from those who built this country.
Whether my country does or not.