My country, ’tis of thee
Confession: I am a patriot.
My relationship with America is a complicated one. Obviously, I have a natural irrational affinity/connection to the land of my birth. And, almost as obviously, I disagree with America’s foreign policy to the point it makes me ill to think about it. I see the nation as a fundamentally arbitrary construction, and blind nationalism as the root of many of the world’s (and America’s) problems. I tend to cringe when I see Americans abroad. But just thinking about September 11th can move me to tears faster than any comparable tragedy in human history (and I am an empathetic sort of person), not because of the scale of the tragedy, but because the victims were not just thousands of people and their families, but my country.
I want to travel the world. I want to understand the world. I have been known to get twitchy when I don’t know the next time I’ll be leaving the country. But none of this is borne out of hatred for America. In fact, part of it is driven by a desire to understand America by understanding what America is not.
Part of why I am so gutturally offended by American foreign policy and by Ugly Americans abroad is that I am so deeply and irrevocably identified with America. There used to be a part of me which wanted to dissociate myself from America and be a true citizen of the world, but I’ve come to understand that that’s a useless endeavor; I am a child of America, and always will be, and I can’t think critically about the world without keeping that bias in mind.
The state of race relations in America disgusts me. The widespread poverty in the most successful nation in the world today disgusts me. The rates of domestic violence and rape in America DISGUST ME. The fact that LGBT people are essentially second-class citizens in my country IS ABSOLUTELY REPULSIVE TO ME.
But America? Is also astronomically ahead of most parts of the world. We have safe, legal abortions. There is legal recourse for cases of discrimination that more than occasionally works. I, as a queer person, may not have the same marriage rights as most Americans, but I also am allowed to air my grievances with the country and the President without being hauled off to jail. And just that small fact makes me among the most privileged people in the world.
This is my second Fourth of July abroad (and my third away from home) and probably not the last. Truth be told, I miss celebrating it in good old Hyde Park, NY: waving cheap plastic flags and scooping up scattered candy at the parade, followed by barbecue and catching fireflies and (inevitably) sunburn. That’s what I think of when I think of my country–and it fills me with a sort of pride and happiness that only the word “patriotism,” crude as it is, can accurately capture.
Happy birthday, America, and many happy returns.