What so proudly we (might not) hail: A lack of pride in America is acceptable

March 29, 2018 — by Kaitlyn Wang

Today, pride in America has declined to a “new low”: A 2016 Gallup poll revealed that 52 percent of responders were “extremely proud” to be American, contrasting with 70 percent in 2003. As reports about shootings, police brutality and questionable decisions by President Trump and his administration fill the news, Americans, especially young adults, do not feel particularly patriotic.

And that’s all right. Although it may not be ideal, there is no shame in not wrapping the flag around yourself. It makes little sense to insist that Americans must perform traditional acts of patriotism when they doubt whether their country protects the rights of all citizens.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we should run around screaming for anarchy, nor should we tear down the Statue of Liberty or take a sledgehammer to the Liberty Bell. Rather, it is vital that Americans feel safe to express discontentment — to speak out, to criticize and to direct attention to what requires change.

Recently, sports stars have led the way in shunning traditional symbols and rituals to stand up for the values they believe in.

After rejecting an invitation to the White House to celebrate their 2017 NBA Championship, the Golden State Warriors instead took children on a trip to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture during a trip to Washington, D.C. And beginning in September 2016, former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick protested injustice by kneeling during the national anthem before games.

"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick told reporters. "It would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."
In response, Trump said that Kaepernick “should find another country that works better for him,” implying that those who are unhappy with the way America has (not) addressed certain issues should simply leave and abandon any efforts for change. Instead of speaking up, apparently we should just smile and nod and wave the U.S. flag.

The idea that a “good citizen” must perform certain actions confines patriotism to acts that may not reflect genuine beliefs in American ideals, such as freedom of expression and equal opportunity.

Patriotism holds different meanings for different people.  While some like Trump may advocate for military strength, parades and other outward shows of loyalty, others stress the importance of protests that lead to change.

Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson asserted how “we must never relinquish our sense of justice for a false sense of national pride,” as “fighting to expand the horizons of oppressed people is an act of patriotism.”

In point of fact, patriotism should not be centered on the flag, the national anthem or the military; instead, the desire for improvement is more reflective of American ideology.

According to The New York Times, the American National Election Study (ANES) found differences between the way older and younger generations view America and its symbols.

In the study, 94 percent of the Silent Generation, or people between the ages of 73 and 90, stated that the sight of the flying U.S. flag resulted in feeling “extremely or very good.” In contrast, 67 percent of millennials feel the same way.

Conversely, when ANES asked whether it is really “that big a problem if some people have more of a chance in life than others,” 37 percent of the Silent Generation considered unequal opportunities to be a “big problem,” as opposed to 57 percent of millennials.

While levels of patriotism may seem low among youth, perhaps there is a different type of patriotism, one less focused on showing affection for American symbols and more concentrated on the nation’s ideals.

It may be argued that citizens ought to feel united by their pride for their country, and it is true that a sense of division can be dangerous.

However, suppressing fear and resentment does not address a lack of pride. We must consider why people are not proud and how that can change — not by trying to “fix” people or telling them to leave the country, but by examining the issues their concerns stem from.

Not feeling proud of America does not equal not loving America or not feeling grateful for the opportunities that the country offers.

Not feeling proud means that Americans know their country can better fulfill the promises it has made.

Urging those who have been oppressed to express pride is similar to demanding that someone smile with a gun pointed at their head; it suggests that we should display expected emotions regardless of how we actually feel.

According to researcher Brené Brown, it is impossible to selectively feel emotion. If we celebrate only our country’s triumphs and turn away from its mistakes, then we numb ourselves to all emotions, reducing the drive for progress and contributing to increased apathy.

During the school’s Speak Up for Change assembly in January, students used their phones to anonymously respond to questions.

One question prompted students to recall the last time they did not speak up on the behalf of someone facing ridicule. As votes poured in, the bar for the answer “I don’t know” grew until it surpassed the others by far.

Principal Paul Robinson called attention to this answer, saying it was not something to be proud of.

Rather than numbing ourselves — rather than hiding behind an “I don’t know” — it is crucial to confront what needs to change.

Similarly, if there are aspects of America that we are not proud of, we too should express dismay and dissatisfaction. Only by determining why a lack of pride may exist, only by expressing our concerns and only by speaking out even when others remain silent can we ultimately feel true patriotism.

 

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