I remember one of the first times I heard the song by Lee Greenwood, "I'm proud to be an American where at least I know I'm free, And I won't forget the men who died who gave that right to me... and I gladly STAND UP next to you and defend her still today." I was in a sea of white people who were standing with tears in their eyes, hand to their heart and lips trembling. I didn't get it.
Then, I remember hearing that same song in Philly over my family house's during the holidays. All black folks, Greenwood began singing and someone said, "Turn that shit off and put on Stevie Wonder!" I got it.
I never understood the term, "I'm proud to be an American." I'm not sure what it means, what it stands for and why people say it.
Am I proud to be an American? No.
Am I not proud to be an American? No.
Would I want to live in the jungles of the Congo? No!
I am grateful that I have freedom, which really didn’t start for most of my family members till post the 1964 Civil Rights Act and still had challenges. So, when fanatical patriots say, “Pick up and leave if you don’t like it!” Black folks, and I have people in my family history who were slaves, have fought too much to be here—I ain’t going nowhere. For so long "black" and "American" were two different entities.
I think it's odd to have pride in something that is the elite or the most powerful. Black folks can be proud of being black because black folks have a history of being disempowered. Being “proud of being white”, is peculiar when there isn't a history of oppression... now of course proud of being Irish is much different and widely accepted.
Same for the gays, saying you are "proud to be gay" (that isn't even something I use) is much different when you don't have equal rights. “Proud to be straight” reeks of homophobia.
I am not offended when someone is proud to be Jamaican. Hell, you are from the "third world", a colonized nation. But, "proud to be American"? Sure, America was colonized, but I doubt you will hear many Native Americans singing the “I’m proud to be an American" song. Why should I throw in someone's face that I am proud to be from the richest country in the world when they are from extreme poverty?
What does "American" mean? I pay my taxes, done the things that people "expect" from "hard-working" Americans like finished high school, received my college degree (that I'm still paying for!) and work every day. Do I wear flag pins? God, no, and whenever I see people cloaked in red, white and blue, I assume they are some racist hillbillies who want to hang me up by a tree. Many other black folks have a different relation to "patriotism" -- it's called Jim Crow and slavery.
It's confusing to me when I see these new ads on Michelle Obama saying for “the first time in my adult life” she is proud of being American. She says she was taken out of context, meaning she is proud of people mobilizing, however, I think many black folks share the sentiment that people think she means. Now, of course, having traveled out of the country, I do see the benefits that we have as Americans. But, it doesn't give me a sense of pride or that America is better than any other country. Furthermore, am I going to give my life for America and fight on the front lines of a war? Hell no!
Seeing some of the things in this election, I see how different we all are. With the Reverend Wright debacle, it's like white people said, "Oh Lordy! It's just what we suspected -- the blacks want to kill us all!"
I am not proud to be American, but I do not hate America. I am not a patriot and as a student of history, I do not feel a sense of pride in slave masters like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. I think it’s much harder to be “proud to be an American” if you are not white, rich, hetero and Christian.
There is "something" I'm feeling with Barack Obama. I don't know if it's being "proud". Whatever that "something" is goes away when I see endless loops of Rev. Wright, ads with Michelle Obama (the first time a wife has been used in a political ad), or West Virgina voters saying they would never vote for a black man -- that "something" soon gets overshadowed by that old familiar feeling, if you know what I mean.
If someone says they are proud of being American it sounds as if they are implicitly saying, "We are proud of what white men who colonized this land did." Proud of being an American is a statement on whiteness. As my friend Larry Lyons told me, "There's no traceable history to celebrate 'whiteness'. Whiteness was a 17th century invention created to unite the disparate array of Europeans bent on colonizing the Americas. There's no culture beyond domination and self-interest."
Posted by Clay ::
10:13 AM ::