From a young age, we teach American children to stand next to their desks, place their hand over their heart and pledge allegiance to our flag. I could do this at age 4, not understanding what allegiance was, or what indivisible meant and thought pledge was the yellow can with which my mom cleaned the coffee table.
In elementary school, we are taught about George Washington, red coats and revolution. We learn that Abraham Lincoln was shot during a play and freed the slaves. We are taught words like tyranny and emancipation and that “four score” is old-time speak for the number twenty. We are told that America is the greatest country on earth; our revolution was a stunning act of defiance against a constricting monarchy and true democracy was birthed in our constitution.
We are reminded that Americans discovered some of the greatest advances of our time. We are one of the few world superpowers and other nations look to us as a shining example of democracy in action and seek our guidance and aid above others.
I’m not saying American children are brainwashed, but elementary and middle grade textbooks tend to gloss over some of America’s darker secrets. I was a junior in high school before I learned Columbus gave Native Americans syphilis infected blankets. During a conversation with a confederate flag-wearing biker, it clicked that while the Civil War was fought over state’s rights, it was mostly over their right to own slaves. I didn’t know our government housed Japanese-Americans in internment camps during World War II until George Takei spoke out about his family’s experience.
By the time we’ve reached near adulthood, Americans are almost fully indoctrinated to the belief that any atrocity committed by our government is a necessity. Our leaders have the choice to risk the safety of its citizens or make the tough decision to protect American lives at the expense of others. We are taught this is always the right decision.
At this point in our lives we have a choice to make; go on to higher education, maybe leave the state or even the country in pursuit of higher learning or find steady paying jobs in coal mines or factories, retail stores or construction sites, settle down in our hometowns and start families.
For some of us our world blows wide open while others stay cozy and familiar.
This is where the idealism of the American Dream begins to split and fray. In college, we discover that America has been starting coups in countries for decades. It becomes clear that while trying to stack the deck in favor of democracy, we have also paved the way for American investments. Our meddling has destabilized entire regions, and it wasn’t to free an oppressed people; it was for oil. We become disillusioned and cynical, hyper critical of our representatives and demand changes to archaic laws. We fight for justice over aggression. Our American dream is in the making and demands change to see it come to fruition.
Meanwhile, others feel as if there’s been a grave paradigm shift in this country. There’s a call to ban firearms as if no one remembers that the lynchpin of our revolution was taking up arms against a tyrannical government. Some folks would send aid to countries that kill our soldiers and kidnap our citizens. They will criticize the police for protecting themselves in a potentially life threatening situation. No one respects our flag, our president or our history. The American dream died with American manufacturing and we need to resurrect the coal mines and steel mills if we truly want to see America made great again.
This difference of opinion existed before the most recent American election cycle but it was thrown into high relief when Donald Trump exposed the worst in us. We are still one nation under God but we are no longer indivisible and liberty and justice is only available to those who can afford it.
It’s understandable that when asked “are you American?” some of us might hesitate before answering. Patriotism has been chopped, screwed and rebranded to be an alt-right ideal only; no liberal snowflakes and phony conservatives allowed. You cannot love our country if you do not support our president, our congress, our troops and our agenda. It’s difficult to show any kind of civic pride when love of country is branded as a stubborn refusal of facts, a disregard for immigrants, people of color and low-income citizens and an alarming violent streak when confronted with opposition.
This is the biggest lie the alt-right media has told us and the world.
I will not let a group of people who have no earthly clue about American greatness represent what true American patriotism looks like. I will not let the ideology of a small but loud faction of radical citizens represent what my country is to the world.
If anyone asks me I will say yes, I am an American and I hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
On this, our day of celebration for our nation’s independence, I want all of us to say proudly that we are Americans, but humans first and foremost. We are proud that our country has provided the most humanitarian aid in the world year after year and often double that of the next highest donor. We may disagree with military action but we shake hands with the soldier in line at McDonald’s, we thank the marine for her service in the towel aisle at Target. We march for our fallen brothers and sisters of color because black and brown lives matter and the failure of our justice system isn’t a black and brown problem; it’s an American problem. We stand for our national anthem and we teach our children to place their hand over their heart when they say the pledge of allegiance.