By Jamaal Smith, Racial Justice Community Engagement Manager, YWCA Southeast Wisconsin
The Many Faces of Patriotism
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word patriotism is defined as “love for or devotion to one’s country.” When many think of patriotism, the first thing that comes to mind is the armed forces, which is completely understandable. American troops are sent to hostile territories across the globe to protect the freedoms of their fellow citizens. However, as America celebrated the 242nd anniversary of its independence this month, I am reminded that many African Americans were still subjected to agonizing and torturous labor on many plantations through the practice of chattel slavery at that time. Even after the supposed end of slavery through the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, African Americans became the targets of racialized governmental policies and practices such as Black Codes, Jim Crow, KKK, and War on Drugs, etc., thus maintaining the social order of white supremacy. As a Black man, when I hear the phrase, “Make America Great Again,” I am left confused and baffled, only to ask, “When was it great for African Americans?”
Black people have shown their love for America since its inception and played a major role in its establishment as a country, yet have historically been treated like second-class citizens within it. How contrary is this to the “liberty and justice for all” mantra recited in many institutions on a regular basis. The beauty of patriotism, though, is it becomes our obligation as citizens to hold it accountable when the U.S. strays from what are its supposed foundational principles. In retrospect, Colin Kaepernick’s dissidence against police brutality and racial injustice establishes him as a patriot inasmuch as the very men and women who sacrifice their lives protecting American borders. Yet, Kaepernick (and countless others) were verbally dismissed as being “traitors to the flag” and “unpatriotic” in their protests. Meanwhile, white supremacists in Virginia rallied in support of maintaining the status quo of racial divide and were protected under the guise of the First Amendment. This type of hypocritical practice makes it difficult to uphold America as a just, fair, and impartial country because African Americans (and other people of color) have been subjected to a completely different experience. So you must excuse my lack of participation in celebrating the Fourth of July while holding America to its perceived moral standards. After all, this is also what patriotism looks like. Right?