I often feel uncomfortable when confronted with excessive displays of patriotism. An unsettling feeling fills my stomach, often followed by a distasteful facial expression, whenever a friend says ‘America is the greatest place in the world,’ or when mainstream media constantly bombards me with the ‘good’ America is doing. I used to think that my reaction stemmed from my roots. Because I grew up in Ethiopia, I see America from a different perspective and I find it difficult to comprehend or relate to certain aspects of American culture. I have my own culture back home and I used to assume that my loyalty to it was what kept me from fully participating in U.S. nationalism. I have since come to realize that my discomfort with excessive displays of patriotism is actually the result of a bigger issue in this country.
American patriotism is deeply rooted in the superiority and supremacy over other nations. For most Americans, the vile aspects of patriotism are either unknown or ignored. American patriotism stems from the notion that the United States is a free country, where anyone can achieve their goals. Although this may be true for some, it’s not the case for all, especially for people of color and those living in poverty, who often overlap. Americans, especially the white and affluent, easily fall into the mindset, perpetuated by the mainstream media, that their lives are more significant than others. Most are stuck within the scope of their own lives and unconcerned about what is happening in other parts of the world. They aren’t bothered by their government’s adverse impact on people of other nations and their own. Many Americans’ pride blinds them to problems within the United States and around the world, keeping them out of any critical conversation.
However, generations are rising and power is shifting. America’s emboldened youth, as we kindle the flame started by our ancestors, is challenging what it means to be a patriot. James Baldwin said, “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” Maybe it is time to stop glorifying what America is today, and start orienting ourselves to turn America into the place that it has the potential to be tomorrow.