I love fireworks, cookouts and trips to the park as much as anyone, and will gladly partake in those events on the Fourth of July holiday. But surely there are others like me, who find it strange (ironic? hypocritical? comical?) to celebrate July 4, 1776, as U.S. “Independence Day,” when African Americans’ forefathers and foremothers remained in bondage nearly 100 years afterward. Historic as it is, the Declaration of Independence means little to black folks until you add 1) the Emancipation Proclamation (1862), which freed the slaves, and 2) the 13th Amendment (1865), which abolished slavery.
This isn’t a suggestion to ignore the Fourth of July; the date represents a pivotal moment in the nation’s history and should be recognized as such. It’s just hard to swallow the founders’ notion that “all men are created equal” with God-given rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” knowing that black men and women were suffering innumerable atrocities even as the ink dried.
However, declaring that the founding patriots were unethical doesn’t make me unpatriotic. Just because I used to remain seated during the national anthem doesn’t mean I lack affection for my country. Though I definitely hate some of the policies America has adopted throughout history, I definitely don’t hate America. (Sitting during the anthem used to be my silent protest, a form of civil disobedience and a testament to freedom of expression; I later adopted my current habit of standing with head bowed and eyes closed, in silent prayer for our country and her past, current and future generations.)
Patriotism became a hot-button issue during the 2008 presidential campaign, with the likes of John McCain, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and other conservatives talking about “real Americans,” as if some of us are counterfeit. According to them, if you waved the flag, wore one on your lapel and believed the country was fine, you were patriotic. But if you criticized the commander in chief, opposed the Iraq war and believed in the cause of social justice, you were unpatriotic.
The right used to champion a “love it or leave it” philosophy, which is hilarious when you consider the actions of the tea partiers. “Love it or leave it” always struck me as a juvenile approach, like the mindset of a kid who threatens to take his ball and go home unless he gets his way. I’ve never understood the problem with loving America and trying to improve it by acknowledging its strengths and its weaknesses in order to increase one and reduce the other. I guess it took a shift in power for tea party disciples to get past conservatives’ old, childish stance and begin to criticize a nation they say they love.
They call themselves “true patriots” and talk about “taking our country back,” acting as if they’re the only ones who love America. But trying to determine who really loves his country is like trying to determine who really loves her spouse. Words of affirmation and acts of service in public suggest one thing, but violence and mental abuse behind closed doors suggest the opposite.