I am not a Patriot (or a Nationalist)

“I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” – James Baldwin

“Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” – Howard Zinn

Man uses American flag to assault civil rights activist (1976)
Man uses American flag to assault civil rights activist (1976)

Some are happy to quote Thomas Jefferson and say that “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” They happily ignore that the tree of liberty’s branches bore the weight of the slain, and these slain not-human-enough, not-white-enough bodies watered its roots. The living, the not-yet-slain, the still-useful are yet to feel the embrace of Lady Liberty. Consigned to second-class citizenship on the basis of race, class, and sexuality (even heterosexual people of color are beholden to ideals of sexuality that are fundamentally situated in whiteness), they face structural inequalities which shape and delimit the spaces they can access and inhabit.

Others exhort me to be a ‘patriot’ and commemorate 9/11/2001. “Never forget,” they say. But when I talk about the enslavement of my ancestors and the continued subjection of the descendants of enslaved Africans on this ‘American’ soil wrested from indigenous hands by means of deceit, theft and genocide, I hear “get over it.” “Get over it,” like my ancestors who survived the Middle Passage? “Get over it” like their traveling companions who did not survive the Passage?

I am not a patriot or a nationalist. I reject American Exceptionalism and its concomitant entitlement (Manifest Destiny! Let us take what is ours!) I reject the compulsory heterosexism of nationalism, and its expectation that households serve a re/productive purpose. I do not rank nations based on their GDP, cultural prominence or by the number of military bases, bombs and drones they have. I do not say “America is the greatest nation on earth!” because I know that if ‘America’ is the center, the center cannot hold. It seems to me that settler colonies are fundamentally unstable, and their nationalisms are always fraught with erasure, because liberalism (its ideal of the individual) never quite fits with the desired homogeneity that nationalism demands. This is doubly true in settler colonies, which are predicated upon the continued erasure of indigenous people (vanishing Indian in service of empire) and subordinated ‘outsiders’ whose labor built the nation that came of the colony.

I am neither a patriot or a nationalist. I am a US citizen because of birthright citizenship (jus soli). Had my mother been 5,000 miles north or south, and I would have been born into a different country. I said it before- the most ‘American’ I felt was when I crossed the border into South Africa and the officials waved me through after a cursory glance at my passport. Click-clack went the stamp, “On you go, ma’am.”

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