Somewhere, at a television station I cannot find, there exists a clip of me singing the national anthem with tears streaming down my face.
I was parked a few blocks away from campus, walking to the Iron Bowl, the biggest college football rivalry in America, when a television crew approached me and other passersby to see if we knew the lyrics to famous patriotic songs. Offering $25, they asked if I knew the words to “America the Beautiful.” In high school, I deejayed the early morning shift for WHSC, my town’s country music station that began each day with Charlie Rich’s version of the song that begins with a 1970s R&B-style speech as if he was about to tell America to “Float On.” I even know the opening speech by heart.
Next was the $50 song. The reporter later told me that no one had sung the lyrics correctly. However, during the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, I and other attendees of the South Carolina Boys State program were required to sing “God Bless America” at every meeting and assembly. I even held the note while singing about the “oceans, white with fooooam.” Easy money.
Finally, we reached the $100 prize, which was a gimme. As I sang the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” I felt a flutter in my heart. I never caught the broadcast of the man-on-the-street challenge, but I hope they autotuned my off-key singing and prayed they didn’t zoom in on the single tear winding its way down my face.
“Wow, you must really love this country,” said the reporter as she handed over five $20 bills.
“Not really” I replied. I wanted her to explain what loving America means. I wanted to tell her a long story about “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the parking lot where we were standing and why the national anthem made me cry. Instead, I awkwardly said: “Nah, it’s just...I just like Thanksgiving.”
She stared at me for an interminably long half-second as if to say: “I do not know what that means.”
For years, I have steered clear of saying, “I love America.”
It is difficult to love a thing that does not love you back. However, the idea of loving one’s country is especially difficult for the people who have suffered neglect and abuse at the hands of most of America for most of the nation’s history. My reluctance has nothing to do with this country’s long history of racism and oppression. I don’t hate America, the flag or the anthem...
I just don’t know what it means to love America.
Am I supposed to love anyone who lives in America more than I love people from other countries? Does my love transfer or increase when an immigrant becomes a legal citizen? How about people who have lived here for years but aren’t naturalized citizens? I love Auburn University football, but I also believe my alma mater, as an institution, is rife with racism. I love people from my hometown because we share a common bond. But if I dislike someone, my displeasure doesn’t automatically mutate into affection if I find out they are from Hartsville, S.C. What the hell does “I love America” even mean?
Is it the actual pile of dirt between the borders that I am supposed to love? Mexico is closer to me than Oregon, so am I supposed to care more about an earthquake in California than a tornado in Chihuahua? What about the stupid places like Texas and Florida? Tell the truth: If you had the choice to take a cross-country road trip with a random person from Abilene, Tampa, or Toronto, who would you choose?
Whenever I am confused or dumbfounded by something, I usually use data, analysis and objective facts to learn more about the subject. But finding answers for these questions was particularly elusive. Because I don’t really understand what loving America means, my extensive research determined there are few ways to tell if a person loves their country.
But trust me, Charlie Kirk loves America.
The exceptionally mediocre right-wing provocateur recently went on a tirade over Olympic gymnast Simone Biles. Calling her a “selfish sociopath,” Kirk explained that Biles’ decision not to murder herself on live television just to win a ribbon tied to a gold coin was indicative of a “generation of weak people.”
Unlike the un-athletic, uneducated, 27-year-old Kirk, who has never contributed a single thing to the country he loves so much (unless you count the gift of Candace Owens), 24-year-old Biles managed to become the most decorated gymnast in World Championship history. Yet, somehow she is weaker than a grown man who calls himself “Charlie.”
How do I know he loves his country?
Besides the desire to hug the red, white and blue banner, or have unprotected sex with a star-spangled banner, the most obvious way to know if someone loves America is to see if the person has ever professed their love in words. And Kirk, like most flag-fucking America-lovers, said it.
See? I told you.
Of course, anyone who has ever been in a relationship with a fuckboy knows that saying the words “I love you” doesn’t always mean the person actually feels that way. However, there is a second way to display one’s love for America.
Hating Black people.
I’m not saying that everyone who loves America hates Black people. (I wasn’t being facetious. I really don’t know what loving a country means.) But history, news and personal interactions have taught me that most of the people who hate Black people also love America.
Jefferson Davis said “I love the Union and the Constitution” just before he turned traitor to start his own white supremacist nation. Loving America was an excuse for lynching Black people during Reconstruction and after World War I. It was Strom Thurmond’s patriotic duty to sic the FBI on Martin Luther King Jr. because King didn’t love America. The Panthers hated America so much they gave away free breakfast in their community. Black people’s lack of affection for this country inspired COINTELPRO. The last Olympic basketball team lost because LeBron James hates America, according to Jason Whitlock. So does Black Lives Matter. Colin Kaepernick, too. Still, some organizations are not afraid to explain what they stand for:
It stands for America first–first in thought, first in affections, and first in the galaxy of nations. The Stars and Stripes forever above all other and every other kind of government in the world.
That is from a mission statement from the Ku Klux Klan.
It’s clear that hating Black people is equivalent to loving America. You never heard Kirk singing Biles’ athletic praises with national pride before she bowed out of the Olympics. Jason Whitlock, who is a sportswriter and a patriot, somehow never finds anything positive to say about the best basketball player of his generation. Pro-America, free speech crusaders like Candace Owens never lauded Kaepernick for exercising his First Amendment rights. The only thing more consistent than their love of country is their remarkably dependable distaste for anything a Black person does.
I’m sure it’s a coincidence.
It’s also interesting to me that these people’s love for America is never questioned. They hate everyone’s free speech except when they disagree with it. They love democracy except when their party is suppressing votes or trying to overturn elections. They love the Constitution except for impeachment and separation of church and state. The hate violence in the American streets except for the right-wing domestic terrorist lynch mobs. They love the troops, except the ones who study Critical Race Theory. They love cops who keep their country safe...until it’s time to spray cops with bear repellent and beat them with flagpoles.
Maybe I just don’t know how to love America.
Perhaps it is the idea of America that I am supposed to love. The concept of a “more perfect union,” always striving for greatness is certainly a noble notion. In fact, the ideals of liberty, justice and all men being treated equal are probably what America-hating groups like Black Lives Matter are striving for. Maybe Black people are voting, marching, protesting and dying to reach that goal.
Loving a country is different from patriotism, responsibility, loyalty or support. I don’t pull for other countries when we go to war. I want American soldiers to be safe. I also want the civilians we target with remote-control drones to be safe. I don’t want Israelis to bleed from their foreheads but I don’t want them to slaughter Palestinians with sophisticated weaponry for throwing rocks. In fact, I am willing to unequivocally say that I am generally anti-murder.
Yet, if you asked someone–even a fuckboy– if they loved you, and their response is: “I don’t know what that means,” you can rest assured that they don’t love you. Maybe I could love this country if it loved me back. Someone should ask America if she loves Michael Harriot. On second thought, don’t...
She would not know what that means.
I love Thanksgiving.
I don’t care about Christopher Columbus, the Pilgrims or whatever the holiday is supposed to be about. But everyone knows I love Thanksgiving. Even though I am not religious, I usually say my family’s Thanksgiving prayer. I spend hours cooking. I force the family to go around the table and tell everyone what they are thankful for. I don’t even care about the turkey or the food. I just like being around my family. They are my people. I love them back.
When I was in college, I lived in an apartment close to campus with my youngest sister. One Thanksgiving break, we couldn’t afford to go back to our hometown, so we stayed in our apartment, smoking weed and playing Mario Bros. for four days straight. At the end of each level of the videogame, the player jumps and raises a flag. If the player jumped high enough, the flag would reach the top of the flagpole, earning each player a few extra points. Each time I did it, I would gloat by singing the national anthem. But she knew the lyrics and I didn’t, so I would make up my own, which would cause her to laugh hysterically until she drooled (a habit that earned her the name “Slobbing Robin”).
It was the best Thanksgiving ever.
A few years later, my sister was dead. I was attending a football game at my alma mater on Thanksgiving weekend when a news crew stopped me. Standing in the parking lot of that same apartment complex where my sister and I lived, I won $100 dollars for singing all the words to the national anthem. I knew it by heart.
“Wow, you really love your country,” said the reporter as she handed over five $20 bills.
“Not really” I replied.“It’s just...I like Thanksgiving.”
We stood there awkwardly for a second, neither of us knowing what the other was talking about. Hopefully, someone at that television station will read this, show it to that reporter, and she will finally understand the backstory of that weird interaction.
Do I really love my country?
I still do not know what that means.