Sunday, July 4, 2010

On Independence Day

I would not call myself a patriotic person. I don't even understand the phrase, "Proud to be an American." For me, pride is for accomplishments. Being an American takes no special effort on my part. I was just lucky enough to be born here, where I have a good quality of life and plenty of opportunity to excel. If I had to earn my citizenship, I would likely feel proud to call myself an American, but as it is, I just consider myself fortunate.

That said, I don't think patriotism is all bad. Patriotism doesn't have to be nationalism. It can be as simple as love for one's country. While I don't agree with, and am even disgusted by, the Fox News story and ensuing reader comments regarding Wonder Woman's recent costume change and what Fox News thinks it represents, I know that expressions of patriotism needn't be so idiotic. So I was surprised to realize how many people oppose the celebration of the Fourth of July. A friend posted the following quote of facebook, and it definitely got me thinking (as was his goal):
"What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy -- a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour." -Frederick Douglas (full text here)
 It's a powerful statement, and the choice of this passage by my friend suggests that while much has changed since Douglas so skillfully strung these words together, we still have much cause for disgrace. While our history is marred with much oppression and bloodshed (including the obliteration of Native Americans, slavery, and Japanese internment camps, etc.) and our present is similarly blemished by much (including, but not limited to, our discrimination against immigrants and those with non-normative sexualities), that doesn't mean that we can't feel love for our country. Another friend shared a very different quotation on facebook. The words are William Faulkner's (who incidentally, was probably racist), and are taken from an essay on Mississippi. I do not know the source work, so I have quoted it exactly as my friend did, and make no claims regarding the accuracy of the text:
"Home again, his native land; he was born of it and his bones will sleep in it; loving it even while hating some of it. . . But most of all he hated the intolerance and injustice. . . But he loves it, it is his, remembering. . .Loving all of it even while he had to hate some of it because he knows now that you don't love because: you love despite; not for the virtues, but despite the faults."
This is true about love in general, but I really appreciated the sentiment as it relates to one's country. Seeing the two quotations side prompted me to think about this holiday more than I generally do, so I wanted to share the experience with others. Now that I've typed this, I'm going to go make some potato salad to share with good friends at a barbecue, where the subject of our nation is unlikely to come up at all.

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