How to remain patriotic this Independence Day, despite all the pain

Jake Schwebach

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Jake Schwebach

Gun violence. Racism. Economic and social inequalities. Sexual assault. Political agendas.

All you have to do is open your newsfeed to see that our country is still violent and divided. It is almost impossible to be part of a group that is not discriminated against. It can be as difficult separating yourself from the groups doing the discriminating.

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So how do we remain patriotic this Independence Day, despite all the pain?

I will start with a summarized definition of patriotism. A patriot is critical of agenda and can decipher between an authentic and a persuasive voice. Patriots are educated in both the arts and politics, able to think for themselves, uninhibited by personal loss and not motivated by personal gain.

Cultural engines like literature, visual arts, music and film are important to developing your inner patriot. It is very difficult to understand the voice of the oppressed without these devices. They are unadulterated sources, not privy to personal and monetary gain. I never believed anything more than Picasso’s statement on art being a lie driving us closer to the truth.

Politicians and media have, to varying degrees, agendas. Be relentless in assessing integrity. Who is giving you this information? How are they asking you to – or making you – look at it? Are they playing your emotions? Forming an honest opinion is the first step toward patriotism. Voicing it is the second. Sometimes patriotism is just owning up to your privilege and admitting that society raised you at the expense of minorities.

But even the arts become convoluted with monetary gain and political agenda. Take hip-hop and country western music: Both started as engines for the oppressed. Slowly, profits distorted those voices and today, mainstream hip-hop and country music require no critical thought by the audience. Both genres pervade cultural stereotypes and suffocate intelligence. A good question to ask yourself is, “Who is this person speaking for?”

When President Barack Obama speaks on civil rights, people immediately attach it to a political agenda. I believe that President Obama should not be silent on the issue – but this one is tricky because I also urge skepticism of politicians. Those who disagree with his broader policies are quick to dismiss his authority on racism despite its honesty and eloquence. His commentary on race is chilling in its authenticity, but I understand if you do not want to take it from him.

To understand the culture of racism more fully, read Kiese Laymon’s piece, “Black churches taught us to forgive white people. We learned to shame ourselves,” in the Guardian. His grandmother’s dialogue feels more like a short story than news reporting. In essence, it is an idyllic blend of the two.

This takes me to personal investment. Let us look at two contemporary issues: the #blacklivesmatter campaign and the recent Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.

Many of Fort Collins’ predominantly white residents (92 percent) have little emotional investment in the #blacklivesmatter campaign. But anyone who is attentive and thinks critically knows that systematic oppression of minorities is still very widespread. Institutional racism rarely takes the form of raw aggression. It is thinly veiled in bureaucracy and laws, such as housing laws (0r Paul Ryan’s statement that inner-city men are lazy). But raw aggression, like the Charleston church shooting (and the subsequent church-burning epidemic), gets the public’s attention. It should be used to start a national conversation – not about flags. Racism is not about flags, just like patriotism is not about flags.

Let us jump to the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage. Thirty years ago, voicing support for gay marriage was one of the bravest and most isolating things someone could do. Even today, someone may support gay marriage but feel inclined to keep silent on social media platforms because it would cause a familial (or other interpersonal) divide. Patriotism comes at a personal cost for many people but that is part of its profundity. For a lot of people, the decision comes at no personal cost but that is no excuse to stay on the sidelines.

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One can be proud of past accomplishments and our nation’s founding, undoubtedly. But patriotism requires some effort. That effort requires more than memorizing buzzwords (freedom!).  Save the flags for the World Cup – by the by, congratulations to the U.S. national team for defeating top-ranked Germany in the Women’s World Cup semifinals.

Remember, patriotism is more than flag bandanas and fireworks. Be a patriot 365 days of the year, not just on the Fourth of July.

Collegian Reporter Jake Schwebach can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @jschway.