July 2020 Blog – On “Patriotism”

Posted in: Leader's Blog

Almost four years ago Colin Kaepernick took a knee to protest the blatent police killing of Black people. Retired Army Green Beret Nate Boyer, someone who most Americans would call a patriot, suggested to the 49er quarterback that kneeling was respectful.  But many attacked Kaepernick as unpatriotic, and for that his career was derailed. Kaepernick insisted, “I’m not anti-American. I love America.”

For Kaepernick, a relatively privileged Stanford graduate and epitome of the American dream, taking a knee got national attention.  For Patrisse Cullors, who grew up poor, black, and female, to make a difference, she founded a movement: Black Lives Matter, three simple words that earned her the label of “terrorist.” And yet this past 4th of July weekend our hater-in-chief spouted racism in front of mount Rushmore, and years ago suggested to NFL owners this way of dealing with anyone who took a knee during our National Anthem – “get that son of a bitch off the field.”

Black Americans always had to work harder to prove their patriotism. W. E. B. DuBois worked hard to rally 380,000 Black Americans to fight for a nation that was seeing a spike of lynchings around World War I. Langston Hughes worked hard during WWII to put into verse the question many of the 1 million service people of color may have asked, “How long I got to fight both Hitler and Jim Crow?”

Black Americans have long worked hard to explain why a critique of white supremacy so often must be a part of patriotism for them. In Notes of a Native SonJames Baldwin, explained: “I love America more than any other country in the world, and, for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”  Those who were kidnapped from Africa and “manuered American soil with their blood,” as historian Lerone Bennett Jr. puts it, have died many times over for our nation. Today, Black leaders are living their patriotism by continuing to put their lives on the line in public protests.

Reverend Jesse Jackson, who I met outside of Philadelphia City Hall during the Occupy Protests, knew that patriotism can be strenuous, can make some feel uncomfortable. He wrote, “true patriots invariably disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed, and are persecuted in their lifetimes even as their accomplishments are applauded after their deaths…. We must never relinquish our sense of justice for a false sense of national pride.”

Consider these actions. Do they seem reasonable and/or effective examples of anti-racism activism?

Action #1: If you are socially isolating, defend the rights of protestors and the importance of pushing for radical change when friends or relatives harshly condem those gather in the streets to protest despite the pandemic. Remember racism is a social pandemic.

Action #2: Support the Movement for Black Lives and its efforts to defend the rights of protestors, including demanding that: a) violations of property should never be equated with the violation of human life; b) that local and state officials ensure that there are no abuse of powers; and, c) that there should be no use of lethal force on protestors.

Action #3: Learn about and support the American Civil Liberties Union’s efforts to defend the right to protest and disinvest in policing and to end “police-prosecutor co-dependence” that reinforces systemic racism in our criminal justice system.

I encourage you to watch my July 5, 2020, 30-minute talk mostly on protests for Black Lives Matter titled, “The Ethics of Patriotism;” as well as reading blogs I wrote last year related to this topic: Blog #27: What, to Black People, is the 4th of July?, and Blog #45: Black Veterans: Punished for Serving.


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