It’s a day late, but I can’t resist sharing this gorgeous rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner by one of my favorite groups, The Civil Wars:
(via Great Smitten)
Andrew Sullivan pretty much sums up what I’ve been trying to say on this topic:
So many points here that I vigorously agree with. Patriotism, for instance, as a love not just of where one’s from, but of where one lives now — a sentiment that perhaps more easily takes root in a nation of immigrants like America. Patriotism as opposed to the unquestioning belligerence of nationalism. Patriotism that recognizes that dissent is not treason. Patriotism that remembers, and continues to cherish, the nation’s underlying ideals — even as it critiques how government and public opinion sometimes lose their way.
(Photo by Crystal Borde)
From the chapter “We Are Quintessential Americans” in Touré’s book Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness?:
Many people told me they sense in Black Americans an urge to reject America before it rejects us. I understand that. It makes perfect sense as a reaction to the past. Blacks have had insurrection in our blood because we’ve felt America’s power and hypocrisies pressing down on our necks. But is that reject-America-before-it-rejects-us ethos the most pragmatic answer for our future? Is the pessimism inherent in that ethos valuable? […]
We are American. And we are so American that rejecting this country means rejecting part of ourselves. A person who hates their family must also hate themselves, for they will surely manifest family traits. That’s a migraine-inducing sort of double-consciousness. “I don’t have hatred for white people,” Paul Mooney said, “because then I would have to hate myself.” Being an American who cannot fully love America means you cannot fully love yourself. “I gotta love these white brothers and sisters,” Cornel West said. “Even though I’ve seen some real sick ones. Gotta learn how to embrace ’em. And inspire ’em to be better.”
It may feel dangerous to love America but we must have faith. America’s story is still unfolding, its character is still forming. It’s a young nation, it’s like a teenager among nations, and we must retain hope that it will continue to mature because giving up on it is giving up on part of ourselves.
Previous thoughts on patriotism here.
(Image via Civil Rights Movement Veterans)
Andrew Sullivan links to this video of NBA legend Maurice Cheeks, who, with a supportive crowd, comes to the aid of a young girl who falters while singing the national anthem:
Sullivan sees this as the American spirit at its best:
I love it because it really represents America. This experiment has never been easy, or its success foretold, as the questions of the anthem seem to illustrate. We have faltered, nearly given up, torn ourselves apart, segregated and murdered, boomed and busted more than a few times. The greatness of a nation lies not in some false narrative that you see in the Tea Party fantasists, the people who believe the Founding was intended to end slavery, rather than accommodate it, the people who see nothing but greatness and hegemony and pounce on all those who see flaws. It lies in a constant balancing of interests and ideas, and our collective response to failure. In this rendering, a black man rescues a white girl caught by nerves and close to collapse, and rallies her to the end, with the crowd. That’s a powerful symbol of America at its finest.
Indeed. Patriotism, true patriotism, is not jingoism, is not kneejerk pride, is not blindness to America’s flaws. To love this nation is to love a sick or struggling relative: you don’t ignore her troubles and pretend all’s well, but neither do you turn your back on her or proclaim her unworthy of your love. You stand by her and help her get better. You see her faults with clear eyes and love her in spite of them. You nurture her strengths. And you burst with quiet hope and pride at everything she is and everything you know she can be.
Sullivan also points out something I’d never really noticed before: that the key phrases in “The Star-Spangled Banner” come in the form of questions. “Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave / O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” It’s a note of uncertainty, almost, an acknowledgment that at some point the answer may well be No. As triumphal as the anthem seems, in other words, its final question — is this still true? is the American spirit intact? does the nation still mean what we want it to mean? — invites us constantly to interrogate ourselves, and to live up to the answer we want to give.