This past 4th of July celebration with its American flag decorations and fireworks displays and the reading of the Declaration of Independence on the radio made me think about how much patriotism is spoon-fed to us growing up in the United States of America.
This is the story we are taught to believe: that some brave white men (it’s always courageous white men in the history books and movies) set out to make the United States of America by declaring independence from the British Crown. They alone fought the war to make it happen. It’s a great story. The oppressed take on the oppressor and tell them to get the eff out of their lives and kick their ass to make freedom ring over the land. Good story, but everything about this country is not the whole story.
Born and growing up in the fifties and early sixties in the South Bronx, I was taught that patriotism was all about flag-waving, talking shit about the evil empire of communism, and making sure that no one talked shit about America. However, it was okay for everyone else to talk shit about politicians, the IRS, the DMV, people on welfare, and of course, anyone who wasn’t white (Although in New York, talking about the Jews, Italians, and Irish was often allowed).
The concept of patriotism was inculcated into our young minds by our Catholic school and the endless flag-waving movies on television and at the local movie house. I was a big fan of James Cagney’s portrayal of George M. Cohen and his Yankee Doodle Dandy. My father, who was Puerto Rican born (U.S. citizens since 1917) and served in the U.S. Army during World War Two, constantly repeated the mantra of American patriotism, “My country, right or wrong.” Trust me; he wasn’t alone.
You were never patriotic enough. For example, the fifties were the times of the famous Senator Joseph McCarthy witch hunts. A communist in every level of government, colleges, unions, hell, have you looked under your bed lately? Be careful what you say or else. America may have been the home of the free and brave, but only if you toed the line, whatever that was. The problem was that they kept moving the line. The consensus in White America (there were more People of Color in this camp than you might believe) was that America was the land of freedom, even if it meant you couldn’t exercise that freedom or didn’t have that freedom. Remember, the modern-day Civil Rights Act wasn’t enacted until 1964. The Voting Rights Act came the following year, in 1965.
It was all about the illusion of freedom. Just ask Black, Brown, indigenous people, all women, and most Asians during the fifties in America. For many folks, patriotism was loyalty to a myth, a dream that sometimes made you feel good because you thought you belonged but didn’t. If you fought in a war, you figured you paid the price of admission, so you should be able to attend the party. The reality was, however, often something else.
This is more relevant today as we react and respond to threats on even fundamental voting freedoms. This essential freedom is now threatened by potential repeats of the efforts to overthrow the peaceful transfer of power last year. The realistic fear is that 2021 was a dress rehearsal for the 2022 and 2024 elections. You begin to wonder what is it about America I should be cheering, “My country, right or wrong.”
We love wrapping ourselves in myths. From school to our religious institutions to the media, American history is distorted to favor the winners, which usually translates into white men the victors. Everyone else are either the defeated or just didn’t really do anything to help. We’re talking indigenous people, enslaved Africans, the excluded Chinese, interned Japanese Americans, and brown people. No matter that those who were not brought here by force came here just like Europeans in search of a new and free life. If they complained about their treatment when they got here, they were told to go back where they came from. “America, Love it or Leave it.”
All this talk of “America, Love it or Leave it” or any of its modern day versions needs to be seen in the context of what it is all about, power. At first, it was the power of the majority over the minority. The majority of Americans who were white could decide who got rewarded and who got punished. Who got rights and who didn’t. They (you know whom I mean) controlled the power of government, business, and religion. They used the money that power generated to build more power and then more money and then more power. They had a head start because they were good at it (Okay, they’re still very good at it).
Now, as more People of Color and their liberal/progressive political allies become the majority in some states and cities, they (Come on, do I need to spell out who they are?) have become the minority. But they’re not sitting by and taking it gracefully. No, while they’ve had the power for most of the time this nation has existed, President Barack Obama scared the bejeesus out of them. From that moment until today, they have done everything they can to ensure that the year 2045 never arrives. That is the year People of Color are forecasted to be the majority in this country.
(Quick aside: I’ve never believed that just because People of Color are the majority, it means we’re all suddenly going to abandon this country’s white-dominated political and cultural domination.)
Well, they are not taking any chances. The preparations are underway for preserving majority rule even when they become a minority. Beginning with the Tea Party and now with Trump’s party, the winds have shifted, and we, whoever we are, will get our asses kicked. Not just the Democratic Party (I got your When they go low, we go high right here) but also any true Independents, scared as shit Republicans, and every other political party in this country who sees the writing on the wall. When they say, America, love or leave it”, they mean love it or leave it, which translates into “otherwise we’ll send your ass back to whatever shithole country the hell you came from.” Yeah, news to them: Ain’t going anywhere. I’m here to stay. Fuggedaboutit.