Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Color of Patriotism

Right now, the big story in the media is Barack Obama‘s trip overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan. You know, he’s brushing up on the foreign policy credentials, looking presidential, and basically doing everything that the next president of the United States should do. On the dying political party and half-dead political candidate front, John McCain is presumably somewhere figuring out where Iraq and Pakistan are on a map before he makes yet another huge gaffe that his pals in the media will ignore. Anyways, while doing a little internet surfing, I came across some pictures of Obama in Afghanistan, and while the pictures were with service members that were predominantly of color, I must admit that I was shocked by some of the online reaction to this. I’m a bit of a political junkie, and since the majority of my friends are inline with my own views, I lurk on different political websites to see what people are really thinking. For better or for worse, nothing brings out the truth quite like the anonymity of the internet, but even with that said I was actually pretty fucking disgusted at just how shocked people seemed to be that, you know, there are actually black and Latino service members in the United States military.

In all honesty, the U.S. military is one of the most diverse places I’ve ever worked. While it isn’t without its racial and class issues, it is a place where it is not entirely uncommon for whites to be below blacks and Latinos in rank. Place that little nugget in contrast with the civilian population in which people can go their entire careers without ever having a boss of color, and you’ll see how progressive the military actually is in this respect. This whole situation also got me thinking about how patriotism is framed in this country and exactly who has ownership of patriotic principles. You see, when the right-wing attacks Michelle Obama for her perceived “ungratefulness” and questions Senator Obama’s love for his country, they are continuing a time-honored tradition of portraying blacks as somehow less than patriotic, one that was further ingrained in American culture with the “Welfare Queen“ hysteria brought about by Reagan in the ‘80s.

The image of the American soldier that you see when you close your eyes is probably that of a fresh-faced white male, his piercing blue eyes positively shimmering with love for his country and noble restraint. I mean, isn’t that what we’re shown by Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers and the rest of the assorted Army propaganda that we’re subjected to? Of course, that is a perfectly valid image, but is it more valid than the immigrant who actually serves his country to gain citizenship, or the black girl who joins the military to help pay for college because her parents can‘t afford it? Or what about me? I’m the black gay guy, the double-minority who should feel more put-upon by this big, bad country than anyone else, right? Well, not so much. I love my country because I believe that it is a place where anything can happen for anybody, and I have been known to engage in heated discussions in defense of it. People like myself, those soldiers, and, yes, Senator Obama, scare the shit out of smaller-minded people in this country because we are examples of people of color taking ownership of this country in a way that we have almost never been allowed to before. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I believe that more people haven’t seen those pictures for a good reason, and that is because they defy the narrative about patriotism that has been subtly embedded into our society and forms the image of that soldier that you see in your head. Obama’s presence means that the color of patriotism is becoming a little more broad, and I think that what an Obama presidency will be able to inspire in terms of patriotism among those who have never been thought to be patriotic will be great for the country. For our country.

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