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Greta Christina on the True Nature of Patriotism

Greta Christina on the True Nature of Patriotism September 16, 2016

My friend Greta Christina frustrates me sometimes, mostly because she so often manages to express perfectly what I’ve been trying to say in a far more ham-handed fashion. This post about patriotism and protest, developed with Charone Nix, Mandisa Thomas and someone else whose name I don’t recognize, is a perfect example.

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There are things about the United States that are tremendous, and things that are terrible. And many of the tremendous things exist because people saw something terrible, and protested. We ended slavery, expanded voting to include women and people of color, created a social safety net (or the vague semblance of one), created protections for voters, established safety standards for the food we eat, established child labor laws and workplace safety laws and a minimum wage, and much, much more — because people looked at the way things were and said, “No. This is not acceptable. We can do better. We must do better.”

Protest is one of the highest forms of patriotism. Seeing things that are terribly wrong with the country, and speaking out in whatever form (short of violence) is available and effective, is one of the highest forms of patriotism. It says, “We can do better. Our potential is so much greater than what we are right now.” To look at a country with rampant poverty, inequality, voter disenfranchisement, racist police brutality, homophobic and transphobic violence, institutional trivialization of rape, and more — and think, “Yeah, whatever, that’s the best we can do” — how is that patriotic? That’s not love of your country. That’s giving up on your country…

Displays of both religiosity and patriotism are “in-group” displays as well — and as such, they’re often driven by fear. In some circles, there is considerable pressure put on people to perform both patriotism and religiosity, and a significant cost to not doing so. The demand that patriotism be performed is all too often a demand, not for genuine love and work, but for unquestioning conformity.

But protest is patriotic. Seeing our potential to be better, speaking out about how we could be better, and working to make things better — often at great personal cost — is patriotic. In the words of Carl Schurz: “My country, right or wrong. If right, to be kept right; if wrong, to be set right.”

Perfectly expressed. I couldn’t have said it better, and I know that because I’ve tried.

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