For the purposes of this article, I will use the word American to refer to citizens of the United States of America. This disclaimer is necessary because, in fact, all of the inhabitants of North, Central, and South America are Americans; however, most people abroad know Americans as inhabitants of the USA.
Is it possible to be a proud American without betraying the values of social justice?
I’m doubtful, for to be fond of being American, one necessarily has to condone the hundreds of years of slavery, racism, white supremacy, patriarchy, sexism, economic imperialism, ecological destruction and other systems of oppression that the United States in its totality has been so effective at perpetrating… Or does one? We must remember that no one elects to be born in a certain country; it is an entirely random process. Technically, no one deserves to be born in a deeply oppressive empire that makes making sense of life such an intellectual challenge. Those born or immigrated as Euro-Americans/white people (especially middle- and upper-class Euro-Americans) must, in order to overcome their innate racism and regain their humanity, understand their skin privilege, economic privilege, the history of white supremacy in the US, and then work to change their thoughts, attitudes and behaviors to reflect that new understanding.Those born or immigrated as non-whites – that is, people of color (POC) – have it even harder. POC are forced to deal with the aggression of oppression on a daily basis on multiple levels, especially through the insidious forms of racism, namely internalized, interpersonal, institutional and systemic (1, 2, 3, 4)
Back to the point: should we be proud of being Americans?
On one hand, to be born and raised here usually means that one has fallen prey to immense indoctrination. We’re taught that the US is the best country in the world, that the rest of the world doesn’t really matter that much. As five year-olds, we’re subjected to one of Uncle Sam’s most powerful tactics for capturing our minds: the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag. (In a true democracy, wouldn’t it be logical to wait until the students are old enough to study the flag for symbolism, as opposed to brainwashing children to like it from the start?) It is only due to chance, or a complex confluence of factors, that we break out of the intellectual stranglehold that this country’s political indoctrination imposes on us from a young age. It could be that you lucked out to have parents who taught you to see through the dogma and understand the truth about the US or global power structures. Maybe you just think differently, growing to despise the corporate media for their often censured, mindless infotainment. Perhaps you accidentally discover alternative media online, or have an immigrant parent who subscribes to a left-wing British newspaper that exposes you to global warming, as I did.
On the other hand, the United States, despite being a settler-colonial society with no legitimate claim to the land it occupies, has been a principal cultural powerhouse of the world. This country has produced an immense amount of objectively beautiful art, people, music, scholarship and cinema. Although the US’s power and influence in Americanizing the world has led to a suppression of other cultures in favor of the US’s – think fast food, Rock ‘n Roll, the dominance of the English language, TV media and Hollywood – interlocking forms of oppression here seem to have generated much inspiration for oppressed people all across the planet. One of the most prominent examples of this is Hip Hop culture. Originally developed by blacks to voice their outrage and social critique of white people’s oppression of their communities, Hip Hop has found firm footing all over the planet, especially among communities fighting for social change (5).
So, are we to disregard all of this cultural, artistic and intellectual production as illegitimate because this country is a war-mongering empire built on the backs of millions of Africans, a country that would not exist had it not exterminated millions of much of it has been fueled by the exploitation of stolen lands that truly belong to Indigenous peoples here in North America? Certainly not; it would make no sense to do so. No one alive today is directly responsible for the slavery and genocide of America’s inception, although we are directly responsible for dealing with the realities that stem from those historical atrocities.To disregard American society as a whole would be to call for the end of 315,000,000 people’s realities – an absurd notion. Whether or not it takes up too much space globally, American culture – despite its multifarious flaws – fuels the souls millions. If we elect not to disregard this output, can we be proud of it?
I believe that the answer depends on the person. There is no monolithic American pride, because the demographic, economic, geographic and cultural diversity of this vast country produce vastly different experiences depending on the person. Pride is not something to be prescribed; it must be felt for each person.
Personally, I don’t have much American pride. I’ve never liked American music that much, with the exceptions of Hip Hop, R&B, bluegrass and some Classical composers. Admittedly, the traditional food of this place that hasn’t been tarnished by vegetable oils, shortening and other processed foods, is pretty damn tasty. I have a different point of reference too, as someone who has an immigrant father, dual citizenship and the blessing of having lived 15 months in another country. I feel more Irish pride than anything else. Indeed, I maintain a very critical stance on the US government, popular culture, living conditions, and history of this country. Here in Ohlone Territory, whose occupied name is the San Francisco Bay Area, I feel most at home in the United States. Even so, something doesn’t feel right with me being back. My lack of American pride stems from a feeling of not belonging here in the US – and that most likely comes from a strong desire to dissociate myself with the reality of this society, as it is intimately connected to economic/cultural imperialism, racism, xenophobia, and a total lack of understanding about humanity’s ecological relationship to the rest of life on Earth. I’m in the process of decolonizing myself.
While abroad I became more Irish and more Brazilian – through living with both peoples. I grew to prefer the company of Irish and Brazilian people over my own country-folk, although I missed certain things about the US — diner food, Mexican food, fresh produce, Hip Hop and R&B music. Having met excellent quality American people here since my return, and recalling the wonderful friends I made before making the jump across the pond, I realize that my preference for the company of one nation’s people over the other is by no means black and white. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting wonderful people from Ireland, Spain, Italy, Brazil, Palestine, and the US in the past several years, and I honor that. Every country has a mix of people – some of whom you connect with and others you do not.
In any case, thank you all for reading this article! As some of you know, I’m an aspiring writer. This means that I greatly welcome (that is, encourage!!) any constructive feedback you may have on my work! Many thanks and be well.