We have all stood in the grocery store and watched a kid (usually white) scream at his or her mother in a volume and tone that defies our mama’s mantra of “When we go in this store, you bet’ not say nothing, touch nothing or want nothing.” Alternately, we’ve all heard a mother (usually black) cursing out a school principal because the mom refused to accept that her child failed a test or wasn’t good enough for the basketball team.
Many parents excuse the actions of their children in the name of “love.” Those children sometimes never live up to the promise of their gifts and abilities because they were never held responsible for their actions. They were never challenged to be better ... to do better. Pleading softly with Timmy in the cereal aisle or obstinately telling a principal “that teacher must have something against my child” might seems like love, but it enables bad behavior by excusing it. It might make the child feel good, but it doesn’t fix the problem. It is not love.
No one loves America more than black people.
On Monday, The Root’s senior reporter, Terrell Jermaine Starr, penned a brilliant piece about the NFL protests against injustice and inequality entitled “Patriotism Is for White People.” In it, he summed up how white supremacy often wraps itself in red, white and blue and calls itself “patriotism,” and he was 100 percent correct.
Starr dissected the history of racism and oppression disguised as love for country and described it this way:
The problem with narratives of American patriotism is that they ignore the fact that America was and is a colonial state. Colonial powers are violent and racist by their very nature. America’s military is not a protector of peace. It is an enforcer of colonialism. Indeed, black Americans have died in America’s wars but do not fully experience the freedom that comes with that sacrifice as white people do.
Patriotism has never been a racially equitable experience because it was never designed to be.
This is not a rebuttal or counterargument to any of that.
What we think of as patriotism is often a white-knuckle death grip on a tradition and history that manifested itself in oppression long before Francis Scott Key penned his magnum opus or Betsy Ross sat down to spangle a banner with stars. Over the years, we have conflated patriotism with blind allegiance in the same way a parent dotes over an unruly child and calls it love.
Patriotism is defined as “love of or devotion to one’s country.” People are patriotic because this country offers so much opportunity and freedom. They come here to escape persecution. They move here to get rich. America inspires patriotism because it is powerful enough to defend its freedom and wealthy enough to offer economic opportunity.
America didn’t become an economic international superpower because this country had great ideas or people who worked hard. Any qualified economist or historian will tell you that the thing that catapulted the United States from a brand-new country into one of the largest economies in the world was cotton.
By 1860, cotton was $192 million of America’s $316 million in exports, and slave states produced 60 percent of the cotton for the entire world. Because of the free labor, that money propelled the U.S. into becoming a dominant economic force, and the U.S. never looked back. Slave labor is directly responsible for why people call this the greatest country in the world.
Black people built this country. Not like everyone else. More than everyone else. For free.
Moreover, the freedoms that “patriots” so lovingly admire have always been protected disproportionately by African Americans. Crispus Attucks, a black man, was the first to die in the American Revolution; 179,000 black soldiers fought in the Civil War; and in World War I, the 369th Infantry, called the “Harlem Hellcats,” spent more days in combat than any other regiment and never lost a man. They were the first group to arrive in France and were among the most highly decorated regiments when they returned.
An outsized number of African Americans have served in every war since the U.S. military was integrated in 1948. According to Pew Research, in 2015 (the latest year for which statistics are available), 19 percent of active-duty men and women in the military were African American while making up 13 percent of the U.S. population.
Aside from creating this economic superpower and protecting it more than anyone else, black America is the group most responsible for making America live up to the promise of “liberty and justice for all.” They are the ones who screamed at America to do better.
It was the white false “patriots” who blasted fire hoses and sicced dogs on peaceful children in Birmingham, Ala., who were marching to end segregation. It was the Caucasians talking about “American values” and “respect” who threw Molotov cocktails onto the buses of the Freedom Riders. Fake “patriots” bombed a Birmingham church and killed four little girls in the name of protecting American values. An evil pseudo-patriot said, “Segregation now ... segregation tomorrow ... segregation forever!” And 60 years ago this month, nine kids in Little Rock, Ark., walked into Central High School for the first time as they were spat on and screamed at by flag-waving “patriots.”
Beware the people who wrap themselves in the red-white-and-blue cloth of patriotism, for they do not love America. They hate freedom. They despise equality. They wield the flag like a tiki torch. They called Martin Luther King Jr. a communist and painted the civil rights movement as “un-American.” They want comfort, not progress. They are the opposite of patriotic.
For them, it is disrespectful when black patriots challenge this country to do better. They have never been comfortable with the way we reprimand America because they consider this “their country.” They will never believe that a black person is 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police. They will always close their eyes to underfunded black schools or unfair hiring practices.
Their country would never do that.
I once had a football coach who constantly yelled at me. He called me embarrassing names and screamed in my ear during every practice. One day, walking home from practice, I complained to one of my friends who often received the same treatment I did. Another teammate, who rarely received playing time, chimed in and said, “I wish he would yell at me like that.”
Later that year, that team won its second straight title. That coach told the team during the ride home (and I’m paraphrasing): “Whenever anyone is riding your ass, I want you to remember how you feel this moment. If you think it’s hard having someone trying to make you better, you ought to see what it’s like having someone who doesn’t give a damn.”
Black people are the only group who have constantly held America’s feet to the fire to live up to the words in its Constitution. It is easy to coddle the country in the name of an anthem or a flag when you don’t have to suffer the consequences. They are enablers. We are the lovers of this country.
We are the true patriots.