I don't have American pride
“I’m so proud of be an American… “
I grew up hearing people say that; hearing them singing, “God bless the USA” or “God Bless America”; hearing the derision and pity in their voices whenever they spoke about “those people” who weren’t blessed enough to be born in America. Even those poor Canadians weren’t quite good enough, they were from Canada, after all—if god really loved them, they’d have been born in America.
This sort of thing never sat very well with me, only because it seemed so weird. I mean straight up, odd as shit, weird! Who in the hell is all excited about where they’re born?! It’s not like you told your parents before you got here, “Oh, I’d like to have you reserve a suite in Such-A-City on this day, in order for me to make my entrance into the world.” Nope, you’re just born wherever your mother happens to be at the time that hormones and baking time are right.
I supposed I was proud, myself; but not because I’d put any thought into it, rather because I’d been spoon-fed the idea “For god so loved America that he sent the Founding Fathers to Philadelphia to give their lives for the Constitution, so that through them, we could all be free—“ yeah, it really did have that whole John 3:16* reboot thing going on, too. I mean, I was taught and for a time believed, that god picked out Washington, Franklin, Adams and the rest almost with as much care and important imbued upon them as Jesus Christ. They were like mini-Christs sent to earth, just to save us from the eeeevil King George III.
I never sat down and thought about what it meant, that phrase, “I’m proud to be an American”. I never thought about it until about ten years ago when I heard comparisons between the US and Europe. It never occurred to me that the phrase was anything more than some weirdly American version of patriotism—I mean, everyone in the world feels some form of patriotism, I’d think-- even long after I’d ceased to be proud of my birth country.
Oh, yeah, I didn’t tell you, did I? I’m not proud of be an American. I haven’t been proud of it for about 20 years, and don’t expect that to change any time soon. It started right after we got back to the States from Germany, when I realized how small the world of my classmates really was—how tiny they perceived things to be, how much many of them actually believed that the world ended at the city/state/Country’s limits. I just couldn’t wrap my head around that, it’s so… limiting—so self-centred, so very American.
I never wanted to be considered small minded, or slow, or a stupid American, or an idiot, or ethnocentric (even before I knew that word existed). I wanted to be kind, and open and helpful and caring, and… well, uber-patriotism doesn’t lead to those things. Neither does super-duper-pride. So that whole proud-American thing kinda started falling off with me. It faded, little by little until I was just meh about this whole American-pride.
About ten years ago, I read an article. The article discussed different things, about us as a country, which Europeans found weird, odd or strange about the US, when they had visited. The one that stuck out the most was by a German tourist, and it was how proud we all are for being American. The tourist said that, if you ask a German how they feel about being German, they’ll be happy (probably) but it would never occur to them to be proud. Here, Americans are all proud, as if we’ve done something special, and spectacular—just being born here.
That thought made me sit up, and really think! I mean pondering for days (even years later). Why are Americans proud of being Americans? I suppose it many ways it’s the same as people who are proud of be white, or extremely vocal about their straightness being blessed by god. What is it about us, and our culture that encourages such thinking?
I don’t know the answer to that, really. I’m no sociologist, and I certainly don’t have the knowledge base to make anything more than an educated guess. But I’ve sure been thinking about it, and wondering and worrying it like a knot. Then I’ll put it away for a while, before pulling it back out and thinking about it more.
So, I thought first about how I was introduced to that concept. The first time I remember hearing the phrase had to be around the time that song, “God Bless the USA” by that guy who looks like Neil Diamond came out—so (without Googling because I don’t care that much) I’d guess it would be roughly 84-ish. Whenever that song came out, anyway… there was this gigantic influx of “God Bless Americas” and people being so happy that they were born here. It wasn’t like a “wow, I lucked out, how awesome!” Rather it was more along the lines of “God is so good to us, blessing us with this country and being born here, in this land of freedom and awesome godliness.”
Memorial Day and the 4th of July were when these phrases would be more prevalent, almost as though they were pulled out with the silver and polished to a high, jingoistic gleam. Occasionally someone would trot out how awesome America was, when their candidate won whichever election was currently being counted and certified.
Most of the people who cried out this love for God and country went to church with us or were members of my mother’s family (who didn’t go to our church, but most of them were sufficiently fundie that they were ok in my mother’s “Big book of churches that are Godly”). It always went together, God and Country; we couldn’t have a Country without God—and often that would lead into yet another lecture on the founding of this nation on the Bible.
That was the price we paid, see, for living in such an amazing, awesome country—being so proud of being American—knowing and paying homage to the “fact” that God chose our nation, planted us on Plymouth Rock, and set us above all of the others (except Israel, of course) to show the world what a beautiful, Christian country looked like. Hence, we could be proud of being American, in the same way they’re all proud of being Christians.
Most of them are pretty proud of being white, too… come to think of it. There’s a large, wide swatch of racism that flows through such speeches, and that’s been something that bothers me about this whole pride thing, for many years.
I’m no more proud of being American, or white, than I am of having blue eyes and red hair. I didn’t do a damned thing to “earn” this, so what right do I have to be proud?! I am proud of my cooking, proud of my books, proud of my skill with words, and my abilities. I’m proud of myself, proud of how far I’ve come, what I’ve learned, who I am, and all the trials and triumphs I’ve grown into—but I can’t say I’m proud of anything I haven’t earned.
Because I can’t muster up the pride in my birth country, I am sure that this makes me a bad American.
I don’t hate gay people, nor do I think I can “catch” the gay. I don’t think that I need a bazooka, just because the 2nd Amendment enshrines an armed militia (we’ll talk about how I feel about this, another time, it’s way too big to unpack here). I don’t believe that Gawd is blessing America, or that there is a god, or that if there was one, that we’d have a right to ask/demand that we were blessed somehow.
I’m a bad American
I’m not a Republican, and I don’t hate people who aren’t religious. I’m not anti-science, and am not afraid if my kids learn about evolution (in fact, I demand it! It’s science, dammit!) I’m not anti-intellectual, and I don’t hate France. I’m not anti-taxes, either, though I do wish that we spent more on education and healthcare and a hellova lot less on the defense budget (let’s call it what it really is, too, the war budget!)
I’m a bad American.
I think for myself. I question authority. I devour information, facts and figures. I love science and learning things. I’m not afraid to say “I don’t know! But I want to find out!” I don’t swallow the talking points, the blurbs, the headlines, or the sound-bites. I ignore talking-heads, and think most news commentators are there just to add some sexy glitz to reading the news. I protest war, and celebrate peace. I don’t own a gun. I don’t go to church, and I would absolutely vote for an atheist! I’m not the centre of the universe, and I am ok being a speck, on a speck, circling a speck in the wide reaches of a swirly speck in the vague area of the Universe we call our super cluster. Insignificance is ok with me.
Maybe that’s why I don’t get that whole pride in America-idea. I don’t think we’re special; we’re not significant, or exceptional. We’re just us, just people, just here, doing our things. God no more set down to dictate the Constitution than I did! People wrote it, fallible, smart, amazing, fucked up people.
I don’t feel like I have to lionize humanity, just because of the place of our birth. And frankly, I’m damned sick and tired of hearing how much we have to praise America. America is a fucked up place! We starve our poor, ignore our elderly and punish children. We put mentally disabled people to death; we kill people who rob grocery stores—but celebrate Wall Street Bankers, who steal billions! America is full of self-righteous, hypocritical, loud, obnoxious, ignorant (and Proud of It!!) religious folks who believe that their highest calling is to tell you what to do with your life, and to loudly exclaim that they know better than you what their god wants for you—never mind if you don’t have a god of your own.
I don’t want to teach my kids to be proud of being American, either. I don’t want them proud of being white, or having blue eyes, or living in a house with cats. They can be proud of the things they, themselves, have accomplished—and I am proud of them, but pride should never be in something over which you had no control, over something that happened to you because of accident of birth.
I think I’ll say I am happy being American. I’m annoyed, angry, fired up, pleased, sick, irritated and glad, too.
But I’m not proud.
*John 3:16: “for God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (KJV) Would it surprise you that I didn’t have to look it up? Surprised me, that I remembered it… I suppose it shouldn’t, I mean this verse is crammed down your throat when you’re little and your parents are Christians—it’s like their miniature gospel or something ridiculous.