America’s new President-elect has avowed that because he loves this country, he will make it great again. Americans often demonstrate their love of country by hanging the American flag, wearing red, white, and blue or a flag lapel pin, or singing the national anthem. Donald Trump has even demonstrated his love of country by actually hugging the flag. I have never been invested in any of those practices. They simply do not resonate with me in any way. Even rising for the national anthem is something I have done purely out of social convention. This is perhaps because the American flag has never symbolized national pride for me, so much as struggle, hypocrisy, and a possibility for the ideals of freedom and equality. But surely this cannot mean that I love America less? Thankfully, I am reminded this Veteran's Day of what it means to Love one's country.
When my father volunteered to fight in World War II, he put his life on the line to defend a nation that deemed him "nigger." A proud son of the Blue Ridge Mountains in West By God Virginia, he nonetheless felt called to defend the nation he called Home. The war's victorious end was a time of jubilation throughout the Allied nations. Yet, when American service members returned home to a country that lauded them as heroes - defenders of freedom and equality against fascism and tyranny - the service members who looked like my father were still just "niggers." Their homecoming was characterized by unflinching hypocrisy, unimaginable cruelty, and laws, structures, and ideologies that sought to ensure America would forever be a nation for whites only. Black veterans were overwhelmingly denied access to the GI Bills and FHA loans granted white veterans. It was still illegal for them to drink from white water fountains. Their children were still forced into "separate but equal" schools. Their wives and widows were still subjected to the daily sexual whims of white men. And fiery crosses burned hotter than ever, while the bodies of black veterans hung from poplar trees.
Undeterred, black veterans were empowered by a truth they held to be self-evident: America was their Home too. Yes, they demonstrated their patriotism by defeating America's enemies from without. But they exemplified that true and unconditional love for one's country means also defending it from the enemies of freedom and equality within. Just as they did during WWII, black veterans put their lives on the line once more, as they began the long slow march that led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the end of the Jim Crow era. Theirs is only one such story . . .
I am realizing this Veteran's Day that when I swore an oath to support and defend this nation, I joined a long and distinguished tradition of black, Latino, lesbian, gay, Asian American, indigenous, Arab American, Muslim, and white ally veterans, who have fought, bled, and died for a country that has remained committed to white supremacy and bigotry. Their legacy has highlighted for me the ways in which I give power to that hatred (and thus my own oppression) by forgetting what really matters. America is my Home; members of the most diverse population on the planet also call America Home; none of us are less deserving of resources, respect, dignity, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness than working/middle-class white Americans. Those are Truths more powerful than any bigoted claims to the contrary.
When Donald Trump declared that Mexicans are rapists, the enthusiastic roar of approbation that followed gave me a startling glimpse of the menacing shadow of bigotry that haunts those Truths. That shadow increasingly revealed itself throughout this election season as more and more Americans responded to Trump's bigotry with, “He’s only saying what we’re all thinking.” Then Tuesday, November 8, 2016 happened. What we now know is that even IF they denounce xenophobia, misogyny, racism, ablism, or homonegativity, at least half of this country nevertheless values white supremacy more.
I experienced an indescribable Hurt that I misrecognized as contempt for America on Tuesday night. I now understand that in fact I am committed to this country so fiercely and profoundly, that it sometimes HURTS. And that is the definition of deep and unconditional love.
Canada is beautiful. But America is my Home. When your home is on fire, you don’t peace-out and move in next door while everything and everyone you hold dear is engulfed in flames. You do whatever it takes to save your home, restoring and rebuilding until it is even better than it was before. This election has made visible the hidden flames of bigotry that have been tearing this country down. Deep deep deep sadness. Fear. Betrayal. Anger. Despair. Fear. Right now, I have to be in those feelings. But very soon, I have a duty to carry on a legacy of Love for one's country, by rejoining the fight to defend America against bigotry and white supremacy - both of which are enemies that continue to degrade our nation from within and push it further away from one day realizing the ideals on which it was founded.
Hanging an American flag outside of your home is a beautiful way to demonstrate your love for this nation. Love of country means defending freedom and equality against bigotry and fascism outside our nation's borders and within. And so it also looks like this:
For the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.