I love America. But I don’t always like America.
Sometimes I’m pretty certain I hate America.
Not hate, like the hate that means I want harm to come to America. Hate as in, I want to believe in America but I can’t. Not completely. Not the way White people believe in America. The American dream has been an American nightmare for Blacks for over 200 years.
Frederick Douglass gave a speech entitled, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” and poured out in his words the anguish, the sense of disconnect and the profound anger many a Black man, woman and child has felt about a Independence Day that seemed to exclude us.
I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine.
The Fourth of July is often nothing more than an excuse to overeat and watch flashy fireworks in the sky. I don’t put out a flag and I don’t feel any special stirring of the heart about the day. But don’t get it twisted; I’m both pleased and proud to be an American.
It’s a question of balance and the darker brother and sister have been out of balance for centuries.
To be a conscious human being and an American means you have to accept both this countries accomplishments and principles as well as its failings and hypocrisies. America isn’t as bad as it seems, but it’s not as good as it should be. When any Black person points that out they run the risk of annoying one large group of Whites and having the other ones looking around for both some rope and a tree.
Maybe that is one of the reasons White Americans resent Black Americans so much. Our presence is a nagging reminder of the most of the blatant lies this country comforts itself with. “The Negro Problem” could have been solved if America had as much trust in Black Americans as we have trusted in their system doing right by us.
But it hasn’t quite turned out that way.
For better or for worse, this country has raised its presence and stature among the other great nations of the world to be the one that often sets the agenda for everyone else. When you’re the last superpower standing you get to claim the biggest piece of chicken.
Which isn’t to say America isn’t seriously screwed up in a lot of ways. There are some terrible things that happen here that could not and would not happen anywhere else. We love the trivial and detest the serious. We care more about pop culture than true art. Awful acts of greed and evil happen in both the suites of the powerful and on the streets of the powerless. We love our porn, our guns, our television, our bad music, our bad movies, our bad dietary habits and our really bad politicians. It’s a big, dumb ox of a country that sometimes rushes headlong into situations without a good reason for doing so (Hello Iraq! Hello Afghanistan!) and makes it up as it goes along in trying to figure out how to get out.
At other times America is like a goofy, friendly dog that wants to lick your face, sniff your crotch and hump your leg, but it’s all in fun. It’s a soft, purring kitten that curls up in your lap and wants you to stroke it lovingly until your arm falls off. America not only loves it wants to be loved.
Sometimes I’m pretty sure I hate America especially when she reminds me it doesn’t just have double standards. It has triple and quadruple standards and it will use every trick in the book and then write some all-new tricks to devalue, disenfranchise and destroy whichever group at the moment it selects to dump on.
I hate America for killing King and the Kennedys and for its acts of genocide, state sponsored terrorism and its nasty habit of dropping bombs and making war on non-White, oil and resource rich nations that happen to have something we want but won’t give it to us.
I hate America for the dirty deal it gave somebody like my father who volunteered to serve in its armed forces during World War II defending democracy, but when he came home the only job he could get was driving buses on the same campus of the university he had graduated from.
I hate America because of our impressive capacity for self-deception. Far too many Americans kid themselves that we don’t do the same evil things we accuse other countries of doing. We tell ourselves our leaders don’t lie to us or have ulterior motives for deciding to bomb this nation of yellow people here or that nation of brown people there. We disbelieve anyone that points out our 200 plus years of existence include acts of imperialism, slavery, genocide, terrorism, destabilizing Democratically elected regimes and toppling and assassinating any leader who won’t play ball by our rules.
Then we sit around chewing our Whoppers with cheese and wondering between chunks of hamburger, “Why do they hate us? ” We ask ourselves what kind of fanatic hijacks a plane full of people and flies it into a building.
Americans just keep saying, “That can’t happen here” right up until the second it does. We never wait very long before assessing blame, but we turn a blind eye to any possibility of responsibility.
But most of all I hate America because rather than live up to it’s boasts of equality and inclusion, I know there are forces that would sooner start another war with a Middle Eastern nation in the hopes it would deny the nation it’s first Black president. If it happens, I fully expect the majority of Americans to swallow whole whatever Official Bullshit Story that will be offered up for mass consumption.
Some people might say that sounds mighty unpatriotic. Could be. I’m not a big believer in patriotism. I’m fairly sure America is better than any other country, but since I’ve never been to another country, I have nothing to compare it to. For me it’s just a matter of heeding Malcom X’s admonishment not to be so blinded by patriotism you can’t see reality anymore.
I’ve served in the military. I flew an American flag from my front door every day for two years after 9/11. But then when I saw tragedy exploited for political opportunity by George Bush and Karl Rove, I had to have my little protest and put the flags away. Black people should get over the fiction they need to prove their loyalty to America. There hasn’t been a war this nation has fought where Black folks sat on the sidelines and said, “That’s not my problem.”
I understood what Michelle Obama meant when she said she was “proud” of her country for the first time. I’ve been proud of America more often than Mrs. Obama, but I am older than she is. I’ve had more opportunity to fall in and out of love with the land of my birth.
We’ve earned the right to love America or not on our own terms and without apology. I love America for all it is and for what it could be. I hate America for what it’s been and what it won’t allow itself to be.
It’s a strange relationship. It’s a strained relationship. Both of us have to try harder to make it work because it’s not a matter of “loving or leaving” America. I’m not planning on going anywhere and I know she isn’t either.
Guess that means America has got to figure out how to live with me because we’ve got to live together.