Patriotism, Post-Racialism and Prima Donnas

July 4, 2011

US Flag and Lower 48, July 3, 2011. Source: http://mapsof.net

It’s yet another 4th of July, number 235, and I find myself tired of how the prima donnas in this country think it their right to define for me what patriotism is and isn’t. Last I checked, carrying an M-16 rifle and wearing a uniform overseas isn’t the alpha and omega of patriotism here or anywhere, and saying that it is doesn’t make it so. By that definition, it would mean that Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln and Susan B. Anthony weren’t patriots, while Timothy McVeigh and John Allen Muhammad were. Those who serve in combat are obvious American patriots. But hiding behind our military in defining patriotism allows us as a nation to ignore so many things that contradict our sense of nationalism and patriotism.

Call of Duty Screen Shot, July 3, 2011. Source: http://independent.co.uk

Patriotism is about much more than guns, battles, taking flanking positions or making perfect speeches wholly incompatible with the imperfections of our society and people. As anyone in the education field knows, Americans in general know about as much history as my son knows right now, and he just finished second grade.

Our aversion to history is especially noticeable when it comes to race. We’ve declared ourselves post-racial when we haven’t even been pre-racial. Meaning that in order to get beyond race, we actually have to deal with it directly, head-on, without holding back, the ugly history of race and racism that is as American as apple pie. I’m afraid that it’ll take a national tragedy, though, for more Americans to dare be that brave, that honest, that, well, patriotic.

It’s sad, because most of us are prima donnas, or rather, imperial narcissists who talk about patriotism without understanding that being a patriot often means using one’s brain and vociferously resisting the status quo. We’re more concerned about winning Mega Millions and Powerball or the price of gas than we really are about troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan or making US foreign and economic policies more equitable abroad and at home. We somehow assume that “America is #1!” is our birthright, even as many of us haven’t the socioeconomic capacity to partake in America’s remaining riches.

Alexandra Pelosi (a documentarian and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s daughter) has been doing the media circuit talking about her latest film, Citizen U.S.A., the story of immigrants becoming naturalized

Citizen U.S.A. Poster, June 2011. Source: http://www.jfklibrary.org

American citizens and their appreciation of what they believe America is about. Her message has essentially been “shame on you” to native-born Americans for not seeing our nation the way these immigrants can and do.

But even Pelosi’s perspective is limited in its prima-donna-ness. There are millions of us who see the direction of the nation and work not to illuminate its already over-hyped greatness — a classic sign of imperialism, by the way — but to make the nation a better one, a nation that lives up to its ideals. Isn’t this another example of one’s patriotism, one that’s forward-thinking enough to work for the long-term success of a nation, rather than chest-thumping about greatness in the present?

It seems to me that we should illuminate the fact that we expend so much energy making millions of Americans who are not with the prima-donna program into unpatriotic outcasts. So much so that most of us have never had an independent thought on this topic in our entire lives. And if the 4th of July is to be about more than guns, speeches, guns and denigration, we need more people to think for and beyond themselves about patriotism, even if some of us are incapable of accepting independent thought and criticism from them.


Jeremy Spoke In Class Today (updated)

April 19, 2009

Helena Garrett, right, mother of bombing victim Tevin Garrett, breaks down as she speaks during a ceremony for the 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, Oklahoma City National Memorial, April 19, 2015. (Sue Ogrocki/AP via http://sfchronicle.com).

Helena Garrett, right, mother of bombing victim Tevin Garrett, breaks down as she speaks during a ceremony for the 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, Oklahoma City National Memorial, April 19, 2015. (Sue Ogrocki/AP via http://sfchronicle.com).

Sometimes as Americans we can be so stupid. It’s been fourteen twenty years since Timothy McVeigh left a Ryder van in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building building in Oklahoma City filled with two and a half tons of ammonium nitrate and fuel to blow a tragic hole into it, leaving 168 women, men and children dead. It’s been ten sixteen years since two White male teens decided to lock and load at their high school in Columbine, Colorado, leaving 12 students and a teacher dead, 25 others wounded, all before killing themselves in a blaze of White male angst glory. Yet we’re still up in arms over any significant legislation to keep assault guns out of the hands of folks who may do their neighbors harm, as if the Second Amendment doesn’t itself provide limitations on the use of firearms in our society.

Right now, without any abatement, some idiotic father or mother is so depressed about their financial situation and the future of their family that they’re willing to go into their garage, pull out the 9mm pistol or .45 caliber rifle and take out their children, their spouse and themselves in a public display of psychotic-ness. It’s happened in recent months in Chicago, in Maryland, in California, in Florida, and in so many other places that the public only barely pays attention to it anymore. Then there are the folks who are literally clinging to their guns — if not their religion — because the nuts on Fox News Channel and on the conservative talk radio shows have stirred them up about President Barack Obama. That the Obama Administration had any plans to take people’s guns away from them is about as ludicrous as blaming the grunge group Pearl Jam for the Columbine massacre in ’99.

Cover art of Pearl Jam's single "Jeremy" (1992), September 25, 2005. (Tempuser123456 via Wikipedia).

Cover art of Pearl Jam’s single “Jeremy” (1992), September 25, 2005. (Tempuser123456 via Wikipedia).

To think that it’s been more than a decade since Columbine and that we as a nation have learned next to nothing from it is just a sad commentary on how fearful we as a nation are. I remember as I packed my bags for my presentation at the Organization for American Historians conference in Toronto how the events of Columbine unfolded. One of the first things that came out of the media was that songs like Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” was to blame for stirring the minds of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold into killing and maiming their unaccepting, cliquish classmates. Except that “Jeremy” killed himself in front of his classmates. He imploded — he didn’t take his rage and angst out on the rest of the world.

Harris and Klebold’s disproportionate response had little to do with Pearl Jam or grunge, and more to do with our culture of fear, as explained by Michael Moore in Bowling for Columbine (2004) through Barry Glassner’s The Culture of Fear (1999). When combined with easy access to guns and other weapons, it’s no wonder why events like Columbine and Oklahoma City, Virginia Tech and more recent ones in Binghamton, New York, Tennessee, Alabama, Pittsburgh, Oakland, Newtown, Connecticut, Aurora, Colorado and so many other places across the country are happening regularly. Kind of like the bombings and shootouts that have taken many a life of American soldiers while keeping Iraq safe for democracy since ’03. In our case, all it took was a severe economic downturn and the election of President Obama to produce disproportionate fear and rage, implosion and explosion, family annihilators and gun-hoarding psychopaths.

I would’ve thought ten years ago that Columbine would take the Brady Bill passed by Clinton and Congress in ’94 a step further, but it didn’t. I would’ve thought that Americans might become more willing to be introspective in considering the reasons for all of our senseless democracy-based violence. But we haven’t been. We haven’t even conducted national townhalls on these issues. We’ve allowed the NRA, gun-makers and others who benefit from the proliferation of assault weapons to dictate how we exercise our Second Amendment rights.

Columbine High School, Littleton, Colorado, April 17, 2008. (Ed Andrieski/AP via http://nytimes.com).

Columbine High School, Littleton, Colorado, April 17, 2008. (Ed Andrieski/AP via http://nytimes.com).

There were the kinds of things I thought about during my five days in Toronto, which seemed as far away from the violence and fear of the US as Rome at the time. I also thought about my experiences in middle school and in high school. I wasn’t bullied, at least in not any physical way. But I felt ostracized at times, and I was certainly made fun of more times than I could count. I didn’t have access to guns, and it never would’ve occurred to me to shoot the folks who were clownin’ me. In later years, in seeing signs of the US melting down economically and culturally, it wouldn’t have been in my thought process to blow up a federal building, threaten the president or another public official, or otherwise arm myself for a coming race war or war against the federal government.

No, what I thought about while in Canada was how peaceful and settled it seemed compared to anywhere I’d been in the US. I didn’t feel my skin color or race the way I usually felt it as an American citizen in America. I loved the multicultural atmosphere and the fact that folks truly embraced it there, and not just by serving hummus and falafel at parties and by taking yoga classes. If I could, I’d move all of us up there to live a less fearful and more accepting lifestyle than the one that we can live here.

Ryder truck that Timothy McVeigh drove caught on camera minutes before explosion, Alfred Murrah Federal Building, Oklahoma City, April 19, 1995. (http://murderpedia.org/).

Ryder truck that Timothy McVeigh drove caught on camera minutes before explosion, Alfred Murrah Federal Building, Oklahoma City, April 19, 1995. (http://murderpedia.org/).

Somehow, some way, we as a country need to find ways to deal with our fear of each other, of failure, of the loss of power and dominance as a nation among nations, as Whites over everyone else. Confronting these fears as part of a public display of transparency and openness will allow for angst without implosion or explosion, and dissent without a turn to ridiculously senseless violence. This is the reason why we have so many dead and wounded every year from gun use (though not usually bombs), in everything from homegrown terrorism to everyday acts of community annihilation. If not, we will continue to serve as a model of first-world dreams and third-world chaos, offering the world not much more than our hypocrisy in the process.


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