Sunday, December 31, 2017

Not a Patriot

My Goddaughter, who has dual citizenship with Canada, recently expanded her job search to our Northern neighbor. To her surprise she discovered she was a patriot. Just looked up the definition. Maybe that’s too strong a word because I’m not sure she’d defend America. But she realized that even though she could write a chapter, maybe a novella, on the ways she’s been screwed in her native land, she saw the US as her country.

I don’t. I’m not a patriot. I usually don’t say that because it pisses people off. But the why of this is something I’ve been examining since Obama became President. I watched he and Michelle, wondering how they got there, to the place that they could love a country that still exhibits so much hatred toward us. They’re not masochists. Is it because they’re Christians? I’m not but granddaddy was and it didn’t make him a patriot.

I come from a non-patriotic family. In the 50s, granddaddy was what they used to call a race man—family first, Negroes second. The U.S. wasn’t part of his equation. He felt he achieved, in spite of, not because he lived in America. I don’t know how he learned his trade. Maybe his father, who was born in slavery, lived on one of those plantations where the slaves did more than just work the fields. However he came to it, granddaddy was a master carpenter. And he was civil minded—he and his crew donated their time to build the first colored high school in Williamsburg, Virginia. (Members of the community, both colored and white, donated the money for materials.) Anyway, he never waived the American flag. He was against colored men serving in the military. I heard him say, more than once, why should we fight for a country that does not fully enfranchise us? And he said we were Africans living in exile in America. Not the language of a patriot.

I had learned my I-am-not-a-patriot lesson by the time I was six. I refused to pledge alliance in school until I no longer had to sit in the back of the bus. Let me give you context for this. The weekend before I refused to pledge, when I was sitting on one of the long seats in the front of the bus, an emaciated, stringy-haired white woman told me to get my nigger ass to the back of the back where I belonged. We didn’t ride the bus often. Mama went to the back but I always sat up there. Mama had never told me about the law, that coloreds had to sit in the back, but she was forced to that day. The following Monday, I wouldn’t pledge allegiance at school. Luckily I went to a private, colored school. I wasn’t putout or forced to say something I didn’t believe. They understood and worked out a compromise. I would stand, and put my hand over my heart but wouldn’t have to say the words.

I teetered on patriotism in my 20s and 30s when it looked like the country was moving toward inclusiveness. But we didn’t get there and I didn’t either—to patriotism that is.  I wonder if being a singleton has contributed it to my lack of patriotism. I don’t have siblings, a husband or children to anchor me to the States. Would immediate family have made me more patriotic? I don’t know. What I know is I am not, and I’m not afraid to say that anymore.

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