Why America's Flag-Worshipping Extreme Patriotism is Often a Red Flag for People of Color
Updated: Jul 5, 2018
It's odd. Outside of the United States, I'm called an "American." But in the States, the plain title of "American" only goes to white people. Everyone else, well, we've all got to specify.
We don't simply get to be "Americans." Even when POC are born here, have families that have been born here for generations back, even when some POC are actually Indigenous to this country, we're all still seen as and described as foreign. We're "(insert race) Americans."
Herein lies the rub--and the reason why patriotism in this country frightens me. Patriotism is a love of one's country. Absolutely nothing wrong with that. But here, where everyone who isn't white is seen as a perpetual foreigner, patriotism becomes xenophobia all too often. And xenophobia has a twisted symbiotic relationship with racism.
The biggest "patriots" often turn out to be the vilest racists for a variety of reasons, but the one mindset they all have in common is that their perception of "the United States of America" does not include the POC living here. We're not their idea of "real" Americans because we've never been seen as such.
For them, "real" Americans look like they do, act like they do, and speak the same language that they do. Anything else is weird, foreign, lesser, and therefore, unacceptable. We don't get the luxury of being individuals. We "look the same" and become as ambiguous as the "ethnic" section in the local supermarket.
Though we could just go ahead and place all the blame for this mindset on what they were taught at home, we can't forget what's taught in the home is merely a fraction of how people learn. Stereotypes, lack of POC representation across media, and systemic racism have been fostering it since the country's very beginning.
That's hundreds of years of racist ideologies being seen as the norm. Hundreds of years of racism being passed down to a new generation of white people who seldom see any reason to question it since it doesn't affect them.
Those are people who can see the flag as a symbol of freedom whereas Indigenous people see it as a symbol of genocide. Those are the people who can see the flag as a symbol of unity when black people see it as a symbol of centuries-long exploitation and murder. For other POC, it's a symbol of a lot of other negative things as well.
The bottom line is: No matter what our citizenship status or color, POC aren't actually free. Not to walk down the street with a bag of candy (Trayvon Martin). Not to hold a ballpoint pen (Tommy Le). Not to peacefully practice our religions (Nabra Hassanen). Not to go about our day normally (Sandra Bland). Not to travel in a car with our families (Philando Castile).
We're not even free to call for help (Charleena Lyles).
Simple actions can come with a terrible, lethal price for POC.
And when the cost isn't lethal, we still pay a daily fee for merely existing every time we're reminded--online and in-person--that so many white Americans don't even see us as equal human beings, much less see us as fellow Americans.
The current president's outright hateful, racist anti-POC/immigrant rhetoric has emboldened even more xenophobic uber-"patriots" to commit atrocities as they wave the flag around and plaster it to everything they own in the name of patriotism and nationalism.
So forgive me if it gives me pause every time I consider taking my dog for a walk around my "safe," little neighborhood when there are multiple houses right by mine decked out with 6 ft American flags, MAGA slogans, and "Proud to Be An American!" lawn signs.