Last weekend, Donald Trump accused protesting NFL players of disrespecting the United States, and the flag, because they knelt during the singing of the national anthem. The fact the racist Commander in Chief ignored the literal point of the protest was sadly lost on many other conservatives who also lambasted Colin Kaepernick and multiple other African Americans who respectfully knelt – an act committed to speak out against the abuse perpetrated against black Americans by various police forces and other authority figures.
According to Trump et al, it is unpatriotic to do such a thing. That the military, the flag and everything ‘America’ deserves silent respect.
In the UK, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has accused Britons who don’t support Brexit as unpatriotic. Those who don’t believe the UK will be better off outside the European Union don’t have faith in (the once former) Great Britain. Talks of immigrants, and free movement of EU people across borders is supposedly ruining the nation, but now the problem is also those who don’t have the unquestionable belief in Theresa May’s Conservative government to succeed at something without a specific plan, other than, “Brexit means Brexit.”
In Germany, the rise of the far right political group AFD (Alternative for Germany) was pushed forward by the huge influx of refugees over a two year period from the Middle East. Refugees who were looking to escape literal war zones thrown at them by the fighting between their leaders and the west. A fight to save their country, to protect German identity, is the supposed main area of concern.
Non-white protest, lack of national belief, migration, and cultural identity; is this really what it means to be Nationalist?
The fight over what Brexit will look like has continued since last June’s referendum. Whether it’s a “hard” or “soft” Brexit, whether to remain in the single market, in the EEA, or cut away all together, jumping off a proverbial cliff… No one seems to know. Mostly because the EU holds all the cards while the UK must switch between a stern poker face and doing their best to be jovial to the other member states. Either way, Johnson has called out the detractors for their lack of unchecked faith in the elected government (all the while making it clear they have no idea what they are doing).
It’s similar in the US; Trump and those on and watching FOX News have made it clear that the flag (aka “America”) must have blind adoration and respect, that it is treasonous to do otherwise. Especially if you’re not white, male, straight or Christian. “Those black guys” should be honored to be American, to be in a position where they are paid multiple millions of dollars. “They should be on both knees thanking everyone they are alive.” But these so-called patriots forget that the country was founded on protest. It was a rebellion against their British overlords which saw “The Land of the Free” created. Free, unless you protest while Not-White.
In Germany, the further right of Chancellor Merkel’s party shifted to extremism (the first extremist party in government since World War II) because of a supposed loss in national identity. These fearful Germans no longer recognize their towns and cities, their local communities now have the infamous ‘Other’ roaming around, finding jobs, raising families and becoming part of a Western society. This same charge has been made against migrants in the UK, US and beyond. Lines like, “Give us back our country” and, “Coming here and taking our jobs” are taking up space where intelligent discussions have been lost.
So what exactly is cultural identity?
What does it mean to be ‘American’, ‘British’ or ‘German’? Nation states haven’t been the same due to more than a century of globalization. Until the early nineteenth century, The British Empire was the world’s dominant power. Even though it collapsed around the end of WWII, the impact it had was still felt. And when America surged to become the next superpower it slotted in easily where the Brits vacated. The US’ influence ever since has infiltrated every cultural aspect. Academics call it ‘McDonaldization’ – you literally cannot go anywhere in the west without running into the golden arches. Music, film, art, literature, organizational structures, language, political interest even – every part of what might have once been a cultural identifier has been altered by both classical and contemporary notions of Empire.
National identity is no longer a singular trait, decided by one way of doing things. Access to information through books, theatre, radio, music, movies and television has opened up people to a new way of thinking – local ideas were transmitted to a global audience, and global ideas were regenerated locally. National norms broke down as younger generations looked beyond what was the standard.
What does it mean to be British- Yorkshire puddings, football, and a stiff upper lip? Leiderhosen and sauerkraut for Germany? Gluttony, glamor, and talking about feelings to be American? Anyone looking for the definition of their national identity will find there is no answer. Western ideals are similar across all borders, only language and culinary dishes change, although these are easily transmittable.
To be patriotic is to have love for your country, but that must include questioning the darkest parts of a nation’s society. To not have your own voice, to blindly follow anyone without question is literally the opposite of freedom. It is the antithesis of patriotism when you don’t know the importance to identify falsehoods and speak truth on your country’s misgivings.
There is a reason why a majority of white people feel this sense of nationalism. They want a world where they felt safe. Where they could sit in their white homes, on white streets, in white towns, with white authority figures and law officers, and you were protected from the interruption of non-whites who were often locked in poverty, far away, out of sight and mind. The world changed with the integration of people of color, the acceptance of other ways to love and worship, and the understanding that women should never be kept secluded to engendered servitude. There is a reason nationalism is a cover for racism and xenophobia, for homophobia and sexism. No matter how it’s framed, these are the issues at its core.
“But I’m not racist.”
And yet, you’re wishing for a time when marginalized people had few options, few freedoms, where other humans locked in war zones could not escape for somewhere safe.
Surely nations which highlight their personal freedoms, especially in their constitution, over all else should realize they are supposed to criticize their homeland in order to make it better, to make it more free. Instead the news carries videos of Trump calling on those who protest during the anthem to be fired, in a fashion literally equal to dictators. A man who heralds a concept of patriotism which is rooted in racist nationalism, and argues any who disagree is a traitor to their country. Since when did patriotism mean to follow completely an elected official?
Nationalism is not Patriotism, but the latter has been twisted into an ugly concept where one should silently agree with those who want the return to an easier time – easier for them anyway. The newly listed perception of patriotism is in perfect sync with a nationalist agenda. It is a cover for the real problems, the problems white people don’t want to deal with.