Social Issues

The Privilege Of Patriotism

Some days, like yesterday, I read something I must comment on IMMEDIATELY. Other days? I have to linger on something. Let it sit with me. Let it interrupt my sleep for days or for weeks. I did that a lot after Michael Brown died. It took me awhile to write about it because I was experiencing so many conflicting feelings as I became aware of the systemic racism around me that I never noticed before, and recognizing the racism in my own thoughts and actions that I had never before considered racist. I referred to it this weekend to my running friend as a “re-wiring of the synapses.” My brain fired one way for 30+ years and I had to reevaluate things as that re-wiring was taking hold. Suddenly things bothered me that I never noticed before and I needed to really understand that before I could pontificate on it coherently.

Before I became woke, if I may.

I’ve had to think awhile about Colin Kaepernick and his refusal to stand with the anthem.

My re-wired synapses totally supported him. But because those are new thoughts, I had to really think about why I did and why were other people so angry about it?

And I think I finally have some thoughts.

First and foremost: The National Anthem often (almost always) makes me cry. I get very swept up in the feeling of patriotism but I also have visceral emotional reactions to images of soldiers and war and often the two go together. Seeing service men/women around me rendering a hand salute during the singing of it always makes me swell with pride and brings tears to my eyes. I was at a race once and a young man was playing the anthem on the bugle and he just couldn’t quite get it to work and the crowd picked up and sang it instead and I’m sure he was mortified but I was blown away by the beauty of the moment. All of us, singing in unison. I always sing along even though I have a terrible voice and I always stand and I always place my hand over my heart. The song moves me. Foldering the american flag is also important and moves some people. My friend told me that there are some set folding instructions that are essential to follow if you’re planning on making use of the flag in your home. But I digress.

So I spent some time thinking about why. Why am I so moved by it? Because it’s really just been in the last 15+ years or so that it’s had that effect on me. I was too wrapped up in my own survival to think or care much about patriotism before that. It’s hard to care about current events when you’re struggling to keep your utilities on or feeling guilty about giving your kid a Dollar Store Christmas. There were a lot of things that happened during my early adult/poor struggling years that I don’t have strong memories of because I just didn’t have the energy to care. OJ Simpson. The vote count of the Gore/Bush election. The rise of popularity of the show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. I didn’t have cable. I didn’t watch the news. I was just in my own universe doing my own thing trying to keep my head above water. Patriotism was something that never got my attention.

But then I graduated. I got a real job. I met Donnie. I started waking up to the world outside of my little sphere. I started watching the news. Then 9/11 happened and I suddenly became invested in all of it. I guess my patriotism was born the day the towers fell. It’s when I really started thinking about political issues and how I wanted to make my country better for my child. As I struggled with having Nikki I started thinking about reproductive rights. As I watched my gay friends and family face unfair challenges I became aware of LGBTQ issues. Which came in handy when I realized I was parenting someone in that community.

My point is, I had to grow into my patriotism, to really feel it.

But there were many adult years before that, when I stood during the national anthem and felt NOTHING. I was probably just counting the seconds until it was over. The words meant nothing to me. The crowd standing meant nothing to me. I didn’t care if people were saluting, I didn’t care if people were singing, it was a total non-event. There was no part of me moved by the song or the moment.

And yet? I stood.

So I’m thinking now about the people who decry Kaepernick and his lack of patriotism and I’m wondering what their thoughts are of the millions of people who stand just because they’re told to stand. Where do they stand on the scale of RESPECT or PATRIOTISM as it relates to Kaepernick? Are they better or worse? Is it better to stand out of habit but really have no thoughts about what you want this country to be? Or to kneel because you desire it to be better?

Because the more I think about it, I think the thing that bothers me is that there are millions of people out there who just stand because it’s what they’re supposed to do. But once the song is over? The don’t stand for anything.

What do you stand for? I stand for the right for women to choose. I stand for equality in genders on a scale, not on a binary. I stand for religious freedom. I stand for the ending of systemic racism in our schools and our judicial system. I stand for body positivity and the end of rape culture.

But because I’m a 41-year old middle-class cisgender white woman in a heterosexual marriage, none of these issues that I stand for taint the view of my country. My country still loves me. Yes, I face gender inequality and misogyny, (I received a great email this week that everyone in my family had to hear me rant about.) but not to a degree where I feel it infringes on my personal freedoms or liberties. So, my love for my country and the potential I feel like it has, can stay strong. I’ve been given the right to choose. My son can marry when/if he’s ever ready. I’ve seen the country improve in the directions I push it to benefit my life.

As a middle-class white woman.

But what if my son’s freedoms were being taken away? What if, no matter how loud I yelled, he was not given equality? What if women were suddenly forced to wear burkas, or if I was told I could no longer vote?

Then, how would I feel?

The poor black communities have been trapped for decades in lines of generational poverty. Some in the communities fought for our country only to come home and be seen as lesser than their white brothers and sisters in the trenches beside them. Even when they tried to do better for themselves, they were denied home loans generations ago which trapped them in ghettos which put their kids in the underfunded schools which drove them to crime and prison and now we’re making it harder for them to vote. They have not seen the push towards “BETTER” that I’ve seen.

So they don’t feel the patriotism I feel. They feel like they’ve been abandoned.

And suddenly, in the last few years, the country is listening.

Maybe not openly, but they’re listening. So the people in those communities are trying to claim the momentum and get their voices hear, their messages across, they want to feel like the country loves them before they can love their country.

They care.

So sometimes? They sit. They kneel. They let the world know that they’re not happy with the way things are. They want…they need change.

And I’m suddenly aware of another privilege I’ve been blinded to, the privilege of patriotism.

And I feel this inner battle because I want my country to change, too. I don’t think it’s perfect. But like Donnie and I discussed recently, the voting restrictions don’t affect us because we have Driver’s Licenses. And if we didn’t? We have the savings to allow us to miss a day of work to get a state-issued identification. We have friends with cars who could drive us which is important since our public transit is terrible. We have family who can help with the kids since we might have to go to neighboring town if our license office closed down. We have the internet and computers to look up all of this information. We have the energy to CARE because we’re not struggling to keep the power on or wondering if the thrift store will have shoes our kid’s size.

Wanting my country to change for the better while sitting in a 4,000 square foot house with two cars that are paid for and a kid in college whose tuition we can afford, is not the same as wanting my country to be better so that maybe my kids have a chance to live past the age of 20.

My desire to better my country does not equate to my survival. My patriotism can be strong because my potential for prosperity is great. And the sad thing is, the ones whose survival is at risk, often don’t have the time, resources, or energy to vote or fight for change. They’re getting trampled under our successes and they can’t even be bothered to care. I know, because I was one of them.

So imagine you get out of that. You stop the cycle of generational poverty in your own family. You can breathe again. You have the time, the energy, the resources to CARE to improve your country. So now? Now you have to fight for the people you left behind.

So you take a knee during the national anthem.

Because you see people in your family, in your schools, in your churches, in your communities, who don’t have the energy to stand.

11 thoughts on “The Privilege Of Patriotism”

  1. I have a lot of veterans in my family and 2 who are active duty. It’s hard to see Kaepernick’s perspective when it seems like disrespect for my family.
    So, thank you. This was exactly what I needed to hear.

  2. Exactly! I’ve just been saying he has the right to protest and the right to not stand for the anthem. But you have explained why he needs to exercise those rights. Thank you.

  3. Thank you for saying this. What I think a lot of people don’t understand — and maybe don’t want to — is how black people (and other disenfranchised minorities) can feel such negative things about their own country. It’s hard to feel that automatic pride for the reasons you mentioned (a lot of people are too exhausted by poverty or fear to have enough energy to CARE about stuff like flags and anthems), but it’s also hard to feel love for a place that continually shits on you and people who look like you. A place where your lives are thought of as less-than, or not really real. A place where your lives don’t matter. How, then, are we supposed to salute a flag that is a physical representation of that disenfranchisement? Or feel anything for a song that represents that hatred, even if many of the people singing it aren’t aware of those facts?

    It’s also ridiculous and angering that people are conflating this issue with disrespect for people in the armed forces. There are many, many, many black people who have fought and DIED for this country. Many, many black people have friends or family members who serve(d) in the military. Just because we don’t care about a flag (and I don’t speak for all black people here, of course) doesn’t mean we don’t care about those people. They are two completely different things.

    I think this Chris Rock quote is so relevant to this conversation: “If you’re black, you got to look at America a little bit different. You got to look at America like the uncle who paid for you to go to college, but who molested you.”

  4. I found this really well worded. It is a great post and puts into words what I could not. I’m sharing on FB if you don’t mind 🙂

  5. This one hits home for me as a veteran and military spouse; it is a super hot topic in my community that generates a lot of feelings. I can best some up my attitude about it by paraphrasing a cartoon I saw of two white people talking. “Of course black people should protest peacefully. It’s their right. I believe in their cause and I believe in their right to protest.” (Pause) “I don’t approve of the way black people are protesting. They have to protest in a way I find acceptable.” GAH. Case in point! I really truly don’t think I could kneel with him, given my personal history and beliefs and everything the flag represents to me. But I support it fully and I hope it brings attention to the cause and makes people think (and not just react). It makes me sad when people react with such vitriol and hate. #blacklivesmatter

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