What Exactly is Patriotism?

I grew up in East Texas. Texas was one of the largest slave-holding states in America. In February 1861 Texas seceded from the Union to join the Confederate States of America to uphold slavery. Following the Emancipation Proclamation Texas was right at the top of the states that fought freedom to former slaves, fighting reconstruction, instituting Jim Crow Laws, fighting integration, and in every aspect of socioeconomic society did whatever it could to keep African Americans in a type of “new slavery.” In my home town of Palestine, Texas the town took every book that made any reference to black freedom and equality and tossed them in a bonfire in the middle of town. Every white citizen was required to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan or face serious consequences. The roots of slavery and African American repression and oppression are still alive and well in Palestine, Texas—as well as the rest of America. For years, including today, the patriotic duty of too many white Americans was racism and bigotry.

In high school our all black segregated school was required to participate in assorted parades, but our band always brought up the rear behind every white band and the poop-dropping, sheriff riding, horses. I was a majorette in our high school band. When we marched in these parades our honor guards, carrying the American and Texas flags, had to step over or in horse poop. Band members wearing white sneakers had to watch their steps or find their feet firmly planted in a big pile of horse crap. Still we were expected to march carrying an American flag and to smile to the waving white folks. It was during these years that the seeds of my rejection of hypocritical symbols of American patriotism were formed. Even at the age of 13 I knew that America was telling a bold faced lie with words such as “liberty and justice for all,” and “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Patriotism has now been put front and center by a president who received five deferments for “bad feet” to avoid serving in Vietnam. While Trump was chasing skirts in colleges, black men became Vietnam’s mass casualties. Upon their return black Vietnam veterans were treated worse than the Viet Cong they were sent to kill. Black veterans of World Wars One and Two, as well as those who served in the Korean Conflict returned to an America that told them to go to the back of the line. They were denied GI educational and homeownership benefits because of their skin color. They were denied veteran’s preferences freely given to white veterans. Black veterans fought and died for an America that never saw them as equal. And the legacy of America’s hypocrisy to black veterans continues.

When Colin Kaepernick took a knee to protest America’s hypocrisy and the continuing social injustice for black America, he stood for more on one knee that Donald Trump has ever stood for walking around on two feet. Trump has never stood for anything except greed, skirt chasing, lying, and narcissism. Yet this unprincipled, immoral, human being is sowing seeds of division over patriotism. This is the same man who sold democracy to Putin in exchange for help to become president. This so-called patriotic president, and his daughter, outsource all of their brand products to low paid, non-American workers in China and Africa, yet want to talk crap about the American flag. And his gullible supporters are buying this hypocrisy.

Patriotism and “respect for the American flag” cannot be divorced from American’s misdeeds. America had no problem with Chinese immigrants building tunnels, bridges, and railroads during the 1900s, but when those same Chinese immigrants began to gain an economic foothold in certain agricultural industries, especially in California, white people suddenly “got patriotic” and wanted them gone, chanting “America for white people.” Jealous white Americas saw Chinese progress as a threat and what followed was white backlash of every sort, including The Chinese Exclusion Act, followed by hate crimes of every sort by whites. White people have historically wrapped themselves in American flags to go and burn crosses on black lawns. White people have pledged allegiance to the flag, stood at attention at the singing of the national anthem, and then gone home to witness the public lynching of black men. In fact, the National Anthem was probably played at some of these lynchings.

I am not impressed with folks who want to play the “rah-rah for patriotism” game. These shallow individuals want to put on a good face of being “good Americans” when they have supported some the most un-American racist actions the world has ever seen. It is one thing to praise Paul Revere’s midnight ride to warn about the coming of the British as an act of patriotism, but condemn Rosa Parks for holding America accountable for constitutional promises when she refused to move to the back of the bus. Which one was more patriotic? I pick Rosa Parks who put her life on the line not for herself but for the cause of “liberty and justice”.

Patriotism is more than singing the National Anthem that was not even around until 1930. It was merely a poem entitled The Defence of Ft. McHenry—nothing more nothing less. Patriotism is more than the pledge of allegiance to a flag that has been used to conceal naked bigotry and injustice in every corner of America. The mass incarceration of black men in America is seen as an act of patriotism by racist juries and prosecutors in America. Every City Council meeting in America begins with outward gestures of reverence to these symbols of patriotism, including right here in Amarillo. But peel back the bigoted actions that unfold shortly after these folks say the last word of the pledge and you will be hard pressed to find actions that are true to the words, “liberty and justice for all.” Patriotism is what patriotism does. #TakeaKnee

Copyright 2017 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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