Written by Martha Barry, PhD, Racial Justice Director, YWCA Southeast Wisconsin
Patriotism: a loaded term. One can think of going to war to defend our country, of allegiance or loyalty to the country, or nationalism. It can also include images of flags, fireworks, backyard barbecues and family celebrations. We often think of the 4th of July as our nation’s date of independence. Yet, that independence reflects the colonies independence from Britain. It did not mean independence from chattel slavery or genocide. Our celebration of patriotism, specifically July 4th, is not necessarily a holiday revered by all people of color in the USA, especially people of African heritage.
Think about your friends and families of color. Do they “celebrate” Independence Day? Do they feel the 4th represents their emancipation and independence? If you don’t know their answer, feel free to ask what this holiday means to them! Here is one black man’s opinion.
Even if you are not a person of color, celebrating the 4th may feel like a challenge to your psyche. You may be feeling less patriotic and more tested by the current narrative of our nation. For example, immigration; children being detained in squalid conditions on our southern border is horrifying. Some authors have opined, there are other ways to consider celebrating the “nation’s holiday.” If you are a parent, what messages are you sending about what patriotism, independence and freedom actually mean? We need to think about discussing our nation’s history more honestly and authentically. Talking with children about race and our history is critical. Thinking outside the patriotic box, consider reviewing books by people of color as highlighted in Colorlines.
It is important to think about the meaning of patriotism, loyalty, and nationalism. Now is the time to make the link between patriotism and racism. Being mindful of celebrations, that are not inclusive, or that limit one’s perspective on a group of people, namely of color, needs to be critically analyzed. Just look at Megan Rapinoe and how the USA Women’s World Cup Soccer team are redefining patriotism.
How we address and move forward as a nation is dependent on everyone being included. We appear to be slow to move on a deeper understanding of racism and addressing the legacy of racist structures (genocide, Jim Crow segregation, mass incarceration, etc). One’s lived experiences result in a different interpretation of patriotism. Maybe the time has come to consider these issues more deeply.