I was a sensitive and curious child, so songs about the Motherland that we learned at school touched me deeply. I felt so torn from my “Rodina” when we emigrated that I snuck some pebbles from the countryside into a matchbox and hid it in my pocket. My family did not discover it until the pebbles set off the metal detector at the airport in New York. So it took a while for me to realize that the home I left was not actually my homeland. It was just a place where my ancestors happened to end up after generations of living in Diaspora. As Jews, neither I nor my family ever fully belonged there. I just did not always realize that as a child.
As humans we strive to belong somewhere, so naturally I tried to embrace my new country and develop a sense of patriotism. For a while, I felt successful, but then 9/11 happened. After 9/11 a huge wave of patriotism swept the United States. It was a completely understandable reaction as we were all grieving and shared a bond of trauma. What I noticed, though, is that with that wave of patriotism came a wave of shaming anyone who did not “properly” display just how patriotic they were. If everyone has an American flag bumper magnet, and you do not, are you still a patriot?
The more I travel the world, the more I come to despise the idea of patriotism. This is an unpopular opinion, so I need to explain. I do love my country, the United States. Because that’s where I live right now. I put energy toward making it a better and more just place to live. I’m proud of the accomplishments of its people and saddened by the outcome of last year’s election. However, I do not think my country is better than any other country. I do not think the people of my country are better than other people. I do not see how I can be proud of being American anymore than I can be proud of having brown eyes or ten toes.
Right now, amidst multiple natural disasters and a threat of nuclear war, our President finds the time to tweet about some NFL players kneeling in protest during the anthem instead of standing up. The man who promised to unite the country after the election is dividing us into those who support the protesters and those who are outraged and deeply offended by their actions.
I do not understand why we need to be divided any more than we already are, but I especially hate that the division is over an issue of this showmanship style of patriotism. We do not need to believe that America is the best country in the world to love it. And if we already love it, we do not need to make a show of our love. In the land of the free and the brave, can we be free to express our love in our own bravely unique ways?