I’ve never quite understood patriotism. It’s not that I dislike America or that I’m unhappy to be American, but I’ve never felt the need to express it through a $5 Old Navy flag t-shirt (after the age of 8 or so). I find the USA USA chants that break out during every sporting event (even those where both teams are from the states) almost as cringeworthy as that awful, sappy “Proud to be an American” song.
What’s especially weird to me is that the people who are most invested in this kind of materialistic patriotism are often the ones who don’t understand how others may not benefit from the “land of the free” as much as they do. The people who say they “don’t see race” and then take seriously the idea of the President’s birth certificate being a forgery. The people who would try to stop a female Senator from preventing a bill restricting womens’ rights because of “the sanctity of life” but would, in the same week, justify the 500th death penalty execution in the state since 1982. The people who put up signs in their businesses reading “This is America; speak English” but don’t know enough about their country to know it does not have an official language. The people who would keep secret a program spying on peoples’ internet activities (but only the foreign-seeming ones) but who would tell those who complain that if you’re not doing anything wrong you have nothing to hide.
At the same time, these people aren’t the only people in the United States who feel proud to be American or to be living in America. There’s that Senator, Wendy Davis, who stood on the floor of the Texas senate for over twelve hours, even after her filibuster had ended, to fight for womens’ rights, and the other senators like Senator Leticia R. Van de Putte who stood up for her right to do so. There are people like Jose Antonio Vargas, a journalist and activist whose status as an undocumented immigrant would make some people accuse him of being un-American, but whose advocacy for the DREAM Act is helping to support a path to creating new American citizens. There are people who live here, work here, go to school here, raise families here, and so on, and these people, for the most part have two things in common:
- They love America.
- They think it could be better.
The Declaration of Independence asserts that Americans have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and while that signing room may have been full of white, straight, Christian, upper-class men (as legislative bodies still so often are, these rights are for everyone. This “greatest country in the world” mentality doesn’t work when it’s only great for the people who fit into a narrow set of ideals. There’s nothing unpatriotic about wanting improvement; in fact, it’s the opposite. If you’re in a minority group, you deserve to be equal. If you’re in the majority, you should want everyone to have the same rights as you. If America is the land of opportunity, then living up to that nickname is more important than how many flags you can display around your house. And if there’s an America I’m proud of, this is the one. Happy Fourth of July, to everybody.