Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue
I am American, though I don’t always feel like I am nor do I always want people to know it. I am openly critical of my country on this website, on Twitter, and in my own personal life. The idea of what it means to be American eludes me and sometimes I even feel like it excludes me, like I don’t quite fit the mold. Even still, I feel what can only be described as a strange kind of comfort when I step off my transatlantic flights back onto “American soil” (an overused term, but one that fits nonetheless). My feelings about the meaning of “home” are complicated, but America will always be a home to me, even if just by way of being the country from which my passport is issued. It is harder now than perhaps ever in my lifetime to be proud to be American. We are currently an international joke; the rest of the world views us as a nation of supposed fools that elected a verbally, physically, and sexually abusive megalomaniac to lead us at one of the most difficult and strenuous periods of global existence. We pride ourselves on being the leader of the free world and a beacon of hope and refuge for those forced to flee from strife in their homelands, yet we refuse entry to an all-girl robotics teams from a country we have been bombing for a decade. Our police kill black people, once enslaved on our shores, at an alarming and oftentimes remorseless rate. It is hard to read the news and feel like something good might happen soon, because we just can’t stop reading Donald Trump’s tweets. We are a distracted and anxious society, and it is hard as hell to find the root of it all.
Whatever good is happening out there feels constantly overshadowed by all of this nonsense, and it truly can feel utterly depressing and demoralizing. Some of the proudest Americans I know have expressed misgivings about our country’s direction and leadership, and it actually scares me to hear them talk this way because while I personally find it hard to feel proud, I have always taken a strange sort of relief in others’ patriotism. If they can be proud, maybe one day I can be too. In a strange way I admire these people, continually looking for the best in a country that hasn’t always been there for them or hasn’t always given back what it promised as part of the “American dream.” But the resounding echoes of hope, once ringing so loudly, have fallen notably silent in the last six months.
Despite all of this, I still feel like we can somehow make it out of this mess. After the election, I didn’t even want to speak out loud for fear that someone would look at me and think that I was part of the force that elected Trump. I didn’t want to talk about it with strangers who couldn’t possibly understand the distance I felt from the US, larger even than the ocean that separated me from it. But it felt good to voice my opinions and to engage in constructive conversation with friends and family about how we as Americans can continue to strive for better and not let the bastards get us down. After a few challenging weeks of slowly accepting reality, I decided that the least I could do was live my life in a way that made me a good person, not just a good American. I felt like I owed an explanation to everyone I spoke to, but explaining that I personally didn’t vote for Trump does not absolve me of any responsibility I had in propelling him to election, whether I was aware that I had or not.
So I tried my best to do what Michael Jackson once suggested: I looked in the mirror and tried to make a change. I retreated inward, examining the ways I benefited from being American in an attempt to feel a shred of pride. This led to me recognizing that while America had given me so much – a great education, a stable household, a safe place to spend most of my childhood – most of this resulted from ingrained, systemic white privilege that I benefited from in ways I could tangibly recognize, but also in ways to which I was blind. I knew that in order to make America great again, for everyone, I had to acknowledge that not everyone is afforded the same lot in life. We must understand this if we want to move forward. We must acknowledge our luck and privilege in life (in addition to our hard work, of course), and do what we can with what we have to make our country better, safer, and healthier for everyone.
There are still a lot of things that make America great. I don’t need to list them off for you to make it true. And despite the problems that are maybe too big for us everyday people to solve on our own (like impeaching Donald Trump), we can start at the bottom of the list and work our way up. We can advocate for basic human rights, such as affordable health care, housing, and education. We can engage in tough conversations with minority groups, the conversations that hurt and make us want to defend ourselves but require us to take a back seat and listen for once. We can be kind, offer a helping hand to those who are in difficult situations. We can knock on doors and raise funds for candidates we trust and believe in. We can assert our right to protest against the structural inequalities that negatively disadvantage so many of our fellow Americans. We can slow ourselves down a bit, take the time to listen to others, and to question the information that bombards us on a daily basis.
Today I wouldn’t exactly call myself proud to be an American, but I still have hope that someday I will be able to do so. I will continue to try my best to engage in meaningful and constructive dialogue, I will advocate for those less fortunate than myself, and I will always do my best to contribute somehow to making my home country a better place. No matter how hard I’ve tried to distance myself in the past, it has taken this election to make me realize that I still want to be part of the US. I want to be part of the change that makes it a better place for everyone; I want to see it happen in a productive and equal way. We have to keep trying – it’s the least we can do.
If you want to contribute like a real patriot today, here are some organizations fighting the good fight:
- Black Lives Matter
- Planned Parenthood
- Native American Rights Fund
- The Southern Poverty Law Center
Photo by Aaron Burden.