To call the last eight days of my life an arduous, traumatic, anxiety-filled, life-changing rollercoaster still doesn’t quite put it all in its proper prospective. Three deaths within a week’s time transformed me from a full-time performing artist, grad student, and startup brand ambassador to a full-time parent who also is a full-time performing artist, grad student, and startup brand ambassador. I’ll admit, the thought of me raising a preteen daughter is pretty terrifying.
Unfortunately, not even death and daughters allow one reprieve from being black in America. The latest example is San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who decided to use his position of celebrity to silently protest the treatment of people of color in this country by not standing for the national anthem at a preseason football game this past Friday. Many white Americans (who obviously know what it feels like to be a person of color in this society in their minds) went on the attack, using weakly formed opinions on his stance by claiming his refusal to stand somehow disrespected our nation’s veterans. Insults and threats of all types were hurled at Kaepernick by these “real Americans”, calling him everything from “nigger” to “coon” to “monkey”, and essentially treating Kaepernick in a manner that strengthened his case for not standing for the anthem in the first place.
Never mind that many who insulted and crucified Colin Kaepernick never knew the lyrics of the third verse of our nation’s anthem in which Francis Scott Key essentially wrote as a threat to American slaves who fought for their own freedom. Forget the fact that Kaepernick actually spoke out in defense of veterans and their treatment by our government (which has actually triggered veterans supporting Colin’s sit down protest). Disregard Colin’s poignant observation that it takes more training for a cosmetologist to use a hairbrush than it does for a police officer to carry a handgun. These days (and for most in our country’s history) common sense has no place when it comes to cheerleading what “real Americans” call the best nation on this planet; it’s the best simply because WE SAY IT IS.
Part of what makes the idea of America great (I say “idea” because if it were a reality, I wouldn’t have to write this) is that even America itself is not above reproach and criticism. Yet anytime someone makes a legitimate point of where our country is dropping the ball, Team Privilege comes out of the woodworks with their pre-packaged “Love America As-Is Or Get The Hell Out” rhetoric. Worse than that, it appears that Team Privilege has developed a three-pronged attack to utilize as the adult equivalent of sticking their fingers in their ears and going “la la la” to ignore the trials and struggles of what is supposed to be their fellow man. Shortly after 9/11, I heard poet/activist Sonia Sanchez coin a term that perfectly describes this three-sided shield that Team Privilege cowers behind whenever one criticizes our country: Pornographic Patriotism. Pornographic Patriotism can pretty much be summarized in three parts: White Silence, White Denial, and Deflection. I wrote about the first part of this three-monster (white silence) previously; but the other two parts are just as damaging, if not more so.
White Denial, to me, is even worse than silence. White Silence implies an inability or lack of intestinal fortitude to speak out on an issue for fear of alienating your other racist friends for fear of personal loss. White Denial, however, is flat out refusal to even ACKNOWLEDGE an issue exists. You see it in those that defended USA swimmer Ryan Lochte when he lied about being robbed to cover up defacing and damaging a gas station restroom in Brazil (not an exaggeration, people, he motherfucking LIED) but were up in arms when USA swimmer Simone Manuel commented on the factual problem of police brutality in our own country. You see it in people who plan to vote for Donald Trump (who on multiple occasions has not covered his heart with his hand during the playing of the anthem) yet showed disdain towards Gabby Douglas for not having her hand over her heart after winning a gold medal for America (which, quite honestly, is more than Donald Trump has EVER done for our country). Hell, you see it in people who actually think Donald Trump is qualified to be our nation’s president yet fail to see the countless successes President Obama has had AS president! These people wear privilege and ignore reality in the same manner citizens ignored reality in the children’s story “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, yet mock those who point out the naked truths of racism, rape culture, and the countless other atrocities that actually prevent our nation from reaching its true potential.
But that’s not what makes denial so dangerous. What’s being denied more than anything is the simple fact that everyone’s life is truly EQUAL in this country. Perfect example: I am currently earning my Masters in the Wilkes University Creative Writing program (shout out to my WhyNots family!). One of the books that I am reading this semester for craft purposes is John Grisham’s “A Time To Kill”. What blows my mind about this story (besides Grisham’s affinity of using “nigger” and fantastic use of third person narrative) is the fact that (spoiler alert) in order for the white jurors to find a black man innocent in a case where he killed two men that raped his daughter, they had to imagine she was white.
Let that sit for a minute. In order for this story to resonate with audiences and to become a box office smash in the 90’s, the story’s twist was that white people had to IMAGINE black people being equal to them. It’s not much different twenty-plus years later.
Before what I refer to as the “Matthew McConaughey Moment” (I saw the movie first) happened, these Mississippi citizens actually had to be INSTRUCTED to view a person of color as an equal in order for this profound “come to Jesus” moment to occur. Although this story is fictional, the manner in which the story resonates is proof positive that this, in fact, is a problem in our society. THIS is why “All Lives Matter” is total bullshit, because if all lives genuinely mattered, all lives would be treated equally without a majority of people needing a prompt to remind them that we are actually equal. This is how we can have a society where a black man who wears a red helmet can say what’s wrong with our country and be ostracized while a white man who wears a red hat can do the same and have a legitimate chance to become our next president.
Deflection is another reason why Pornographic Patriotism is so rampant. Instead of addressing one problem, people will instead respond with something completely unrelated as a tactic to flat out avoid addressing the actual issue. The most deflected topic as of recently? Police brutality. One of the main deflections Team Privilege has used against Kaepernick is comments of how not standing for the anthem disrespects our country’s veterans, despite the fact that when questioned about his protest, Kaepernick defended veterans, stating how our government doesn’t take care of vets as well as we should (which we don’t). That isn’t even Team Privilege’s favorite deflection regarding police violence. As of this blog, 706 unarmed citizens have been murdered by police, with unarmed blacks being thirty-one times more likely to die at the hands of police versus unarmed (or armed) whites. Yet many, instead of addressing this subject will run behind so-called “black on black crime” (a phrase used to subconsciously make people devalue black lives even more and deflect even more attention from police violence), oblivious to the fact that, according to fbi.gov, all races kill each other at similar rates. Why is “white on white crime” (something that happens in much larger numbers than any other race in America) never discussed, you ask? Denial and deflection, simple and plain. It’s not about what the facts are, it’s about what makes white America comfortable.
Yes, we are arguably the best country in the world to live in. But considering the fact that women and people of color are treated as third-class citizens elsewhere (as compared to being treated as second-class citizens here), calling ourselves the best country in the world is the same as boasting about being the tallest midget. And as long as the majority in this country continues to use silence, denial, and deflection to protect white fragility, we will continue to be a fractured society that has to continue calling ourselves a magnificent nation in hopes that one day everyone else will believe that as well. Pornographic Patriotism is what blinds people of privilege to differentiate an assessment of our society from an attack on it. You can’t really expect a country with states like Texas, whose history books are attempting to erase the history of slavery from their pages, to actually acknowledge something as it’s actually happening, right? Many in America are more concerned with protecting the image of our country’s greatness versus actually working to make this country better. True patriots are those who treat this country and its citizens like family: you can love it and still criticize it when it’s fucking up. So, consider this an intervention. America, you have built your brand as a shining example of what a society is supposed to be, but you are FAR from perfect. In fact, you’re barely mediocre. You can do better. This country should not be the type of country that measures its successes by what other countries aren’t doing, telling its minorities to be satisfied with no longer being slaves (unless you count the current prison system), being lynched (as much). You cannot, as sports analyst Max Kellerman suggested on ESPN’s First Take, measure our present state against our past as the litmus test of our society’s successes and potential. No, Max, we cannot be satisfied until we are able to live the same way you and your family can, as equals without fear of being killed for having the wrong skin color in the eyes of our system. We refuse to be satisfied until every American is proud to stand at our anthem, not because so-called self-proclaimed “patriots” bully them into doing so, but from an authentic pride in a country that roots for them at all times, not just when touchdowns are scored and medals are won. We refuse to settle for anything less than the American Dream becoming a reality for ALL of our sons and daughters. For these rights, we are willing to fight to the death… even if fighting means sitting down on a bench in peaceful protest.
What can possibly be more patriotic than that?