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Lee: Why I'm not a patriot

BY ASHLEY LEE | NOVEMBER 19, 2013 5:00 AM

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I have a serious problem with people telling me I should be proud to be an American. It is a messy, complicated, and uneasy predicament. To know that I am a product of an operation that systematically imported blood and flesh from one continent to another and used those bodies as labor to build a nation is unsettling.

Last week, a guest columnist expressed her discontent at our generation’s lack of patriotism. “American patriotism appeals to your heart,” she said.

Herein lies the problem.

I do not have a heartfelt, loving admiration for this country Jessica Kolner so eloquently speaks of (DI, Nov. 12). I can appreciate that men and women sacrifice their lives for me, but that does not mean I have to love America, be proud to call it my home, and have undying patriotism and gratitude for the “greatest” country in the world. I was born and raised here, but that is the extent of my association with the United States. It is merely a fact. I do not consider this country mine.

It intrigues me that whenever this conversation arises, it is mostly white Americans who tell me I should be grateful to be an American. These are men and women whose grandparents, great-grandparents, and the like, ultimately chose to embark on a strenuous journey to the United States for a better life. Men and women who benefit from their lighter hue.

Their ancestors were not physically uprooted by those seeking to “civilize” or colonize their homeland, chucked as cattle, forced to partake in manual labor, and deemed inferior based on the color of their skin. They were not sexually exploited as a means to procreate more slaves, they were not caricatures in minstrelsy, nor were they classified as Brutes and viewed as a threat to white womanhood in this country.

I recognize I am blessed and have access to privileges not everyone has. I am able to receive a formal education, something women in other countries are unable to do. Iowa City is not a war zone, I’m thankful for that. But the extreme comparisons between Third World countries and the United States can only go so far. The argument that I should stop complaining because I live in America and thus, “have it good,” can come to an end.

Someone could argue that the poor treatment of blacks, homosexuals, and women in this country is not as bad as the trouble facing the starving and dying civilians somewhere else. But I don’t think it’s reasonable to compare these realities, because they are very different problems requiring very different solutions. America has a different set of domestic issues to address, one of them, racial inequality. 

Those who prefer to ignore such problems should consider Henry Louis Gates’ current PBS series, “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross” or President Obama’s memoir, Dreams from My Father.

To ask me to have patriotism for a nation that has systematically worked to disenfranchise blacks and erase my family ancestry through slavery is a very difficult thing to do. To ask me to have pride for a nation that deems black men a threat, excludes or misrepresents black voices, and keeps black life in the margins is wrong.

The dominant culture still views African Americans and blackness as a separate entity opposing whiteness. I will not admire our Founding Fathers and our national heritage knowing that “our” inherently means “white.”


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