AP Image
A close-up of the Statue of Liberty’s face.

I spent Sunday with my mother, as I try to do at least once a month if life permits. We went out for lunch, shopped lazily through the crafting store, and popped into a thrift store on the way back home. While doing so we discussed, as we always have, politics.

My mother and I have been talking politics since I was ten-years-old, “campaigning” for Bill Clinton in my elementary school’s “election day”. She was the one who helped me join Amnesty International when I was in middle school so I could paper my small-town Arkansas town with anti-capital punishment literature. She supported my right to sit during the pledge of allegiance and told me I was brave for doing so. She drove me to my first anti-war protest in the wake of 9/11. My mom is a self-declared “mad dog liberal” and she did a damn good job raising me to be my own “radical commie queer” brand of political.

It was this slight difference in our approaches which created an awkward moment where my mother said, in response to my desire to hang an upside-down American flag outside my home with “Well it’s not like you’re not patriotic.”

I sucked in the air slowly into a humorously awkward pause, then laughed and said, “I like where I live in the sense that it’s got My Me and My People there. But, you know, Fuck The State.” To which my mother admitted, growing up exclusively in Post-Reagan Brutal-Capitalist America would make the idea of patriotism off-putting.

But I understand what my mother meant in her mild protest. While I have become increasingly Anti-Capitalist and Anti-White Supremacy  the older I get (and therefore pretty damn anti-american politicoeconomic state in general) I still get teary eyed when I remember seeing the Statue of Liberty on my childhood pilgrimage to my ancestral home. However, the country I live in wants nothing to do with tired, hungry, huddled masses yearning to breathe free. We are the country of #ICantBreathe and that is not a new phenomenon, it is our foundation.

There is a picture of Captain America on my desk with the caption “Punching Nazis is an American Tradition”. But of course, it is impossible for me to be proud of the same country that was interning Japanese descendants for the same sort of excuses the Nazis gave for their camps.

The musical Hamilton gives me complicated feelings of pride as the hardworking offspring of Polish “Immigrants, we get the job done!” Complicated because I can’t pretend to forget how many millions of American and African indigenous people had to be slaughtered and/or enslaved to make the young scrappy and hungry nation.

And I remember, oh yeah, America Has Never Been Great. Unless you’re a white land-owning male.

I realize now it is the mythical America I have loved, while becoming increasingly disgusted with the literal America. And no matter how much those two clash, I still want to believe in the America that’s never actually existed. An America of take-all-immigrants who take care of each other with New Deal Socialism rather than Cut-The-Bootstraps Poverty. Then I hear my mother’s last thoughts on the subject, “Well, you and I can’t leave. So we have to make the best of it.”

And she’s right.

I am no patriot by any stretch of definition. But this is where I live. And that means shit being done in my house is my responsibility to deal with whether I like it or not. It doesn’t matter if this is arguably the most powerful government in recorded history.

We must provoke outrage, outright. And make it impossible to justify the cost of the fight. But not while losing sight of how we fucked it up for people who aren’t white.


4 thoughts on “Patriot

  1. 1

    A friend pointed out the useful distinctions when I recently disparaged patriotism when I meant nationalism and jingoism. Seeing the volume and breadth of #resistance across the nation, though, triggers tears of pride. And I wonder whether it’s inaccurate to use “patriotism” to describe my love for the America I know, what you call “My People.”

    I think it is patriotism that inspires us *to fight instead of planning escape,* to engage and challenge our representatives, to run for office, to hold everyone accountable to the lofty ideals on which this nation was founded, and to work for the mythical America it could be.

    As James Baldwin said, “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

  2. 2

    Thank you, Dori! You truly have a gift with words and speaking truth with a clarity that is inspiring. So many times in this post I found myself with jaw dropped, saying aloud “yes, this, all of this”. Thank you for sharing your thoughts so accurately and profoundly. Yours is a voice that echoes the angst and disappointment in the status quo that so many of us feel and cannot always find the words to compell others to hear. Many thanks. Keep writing. Keep fighting. The world needs you.

  3. 4

    To me, the concept of patriotism has been more or less “Do It Yourself”. Or better stated, “This above all – to thine own self be true,”.

    The concept of patriotism is so vast and encompassing that the Neo-Nazi skinhead thinks he is doing both god’s will and the very best for his beloved homeland by purging the evil “others”. While a few miles down the road a protester marches with a sign held high fighting for equality for that very same “other”.

    Patriotism truly is one of the most open-ended concepts we deal with on a daily basis. For me, the protestor fighting for another’s rights is the patriot, while any force that intends to limit that notion is the defining example of the term “Ugly American”.

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