It seems that in America, “patriotism” is defined not as love for country but blind allegiance to and worship for it. To question or display hesitation toward anything “America” does quickly earns a person the label “unpatriotic.” When the nation attempted to draft Muhammad Ali into service during the Vietnam War, Ali objected on religious grounds but also made it quite clear that he was unconvinced of the legitimacy of the war, particularly as a black man. He said, “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?” Ali was quickly labeled unpatriotic.
In addition to not blindly supporting atrocities and military aggression, one can quickly be labeled unpatriotic for failing to worship the Constitution. The Tea Party’s rise highlighted this in a fresh way. Their obsession with the Constitution even prompted House Republicans to propose it be read in its entirety from the House floor in early 2011. The unbridled worship of the Constitution has been a constant theme during the Obama presidency. The casual observer will notice that just about every criticism leveled at him has been accompanied by some reference to how he does not regard the Constitution; more like worship, I would say.
I find it troubling that any thinking individual could give blind allegiance to any governing body or find it improper to challenge and critique it. If history is any indication, governments left unchecked tend toward corruption and oppression. Also, any allegiance- blind included- must be rooted in trust. For black people, that trust is still wanting.
The quest for trust and belonging is deeply complicated when you are not only a misfit but are in fact pushed out. This has been the black experience in America. The infamous 1958 “Kissing Case” in Monroe, North Carolina, serves as but one of millions of examples. In it, two black boys- ages 7 and 9- were pursued by townspeople with shotguns, arrested and beaten in a lower-level cell of a police station, denied legal counsel and told they might be freed when they were 21 years old. Their crime? The nine year old allowed a white girl to kiss him on the cheek during a kissing game.
Trust is further retarded when we’ve given the country our ultimate sacrifice- our blood- and received insult in return. We served in World War I while lynchings were still common at home. Even so, the U.S pressured its French allies to issue a memorandum, the infamous “Secret Information Concerning Black American Troops.” It warned that French attitudes toward blacks were a threat to the U.S social order and instructed the French on how to treat blacks. In it, French officers were warned to keep their distance from black troops, avoid praising them and to keep them away from French women. More insulting, black soldiers returning from the war were lynched in their uniforms.
So no, sufficient trust does not exist to render blind allegiance and say amen to every action of the country, domestic or foreign. It has been proven over and over that there must be loving critique. No, I cannot worship a document, the Constitution, which defines me as 3/5 of a man. If those are the prerequisites to pass the patriotism test, I gladly flunk that exam.