Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Old Glory, Brand New Pride…

November 11, 2008 by  
Filed under News, Weekly Columns

( On the evening of November 4th, 2008, I watched television news coverage of millions around the world celebrating the U.S. Presidential win of Barack Obama.

One video image I found particularly startling: among a group of students on the campus of Washington D.C.’s Howard University was a young man excitedly waving an American flag.

It was a good sized flag, the kind you see hanging from the front porches of homes and entrances of businesses all across this country. The young man waved it back and forth with dynamic purpose and exuberant glee.

Until that moment, I can’t say I remember seeing a black American expressing jubilance with an American flag. Okay, during the Olympics. But these weren’t athletes competing on foreign soil. They were regular people, young people, right here in America, and to my eyes the scene looked bizarre.

While I love this country, I haven’t always been proud of it. To me, embrace of the Star Spangled Banner smacked of something called patriotism–the characteristically imperceptive support and defense of America, even when the country doesn’t do right by its people or the rest of the world–that seemed relegated mostly to uninformed white people.

As a teen in the early ’70s, I asked mama to sew onto the shoulder of my beloved green military jacket both a Black Power fist logo and the red, black and green Black Nationalist flag, but not an American flag. In my young opinion, informed by Top 40 protest songs, what I read and whatever certain people told me, the Stars and Stripes represented the mucked up actions and policies of The System and The Man.

Nevertheless, one Australian summer day in the early ’90s, I stood on Bondi Beach and got into a disagreement with two locals who declared America a global bully that puts its nose in everyone else’s bbusiness.

“Your statement,” I retorted, “is typical of people who live in a country without a real fucking army. Don’t blame us because you guys don’t have the balls to take a stand.” Huffing down the pier, I considered the irony of my arrogance. In reality, I felt the same way about America as those two Down Under friends.

And while the horrific event of 9/11 frightened, saddened and angered me, like many Americans who kept the unpopular thought to themselves, I couldn’t help but think the country’s shameful, decades-long activities abroad had finally come back to haunt us.

Thus, when during the Presidential race Michelle Obama, inspired by her husband’s success on the campaign trail, said for once in her life she truly felt proud to be an American, I completely understood and agreed. Until the rise of Obama and Hillary Clinton, a segment of the nation felt left out of the political process.

But unlike others, I didn’t joke about leaving the country to live elsewhere if Obama didn’t win. Where would I go? I was born and raised in Oklahoma City. I’d already moved to another
country–Los Angeles. I enjoy traveling abroad, but for better or worse, American is what I am.

The discussion of leaving based upon the outcome of the campaign, even in jest, allowed me to grasp and appreciate the words of friends living in war torn or otherwise beleaguered parts of the world. They describe their mess, and I ask them: Why don’t you just leave? After offering a myriad of reasons, they invariably answer simply, “Because this is my home.”

America is my home. And for the first time in my life, I feel like my country is edging toward the much-hyped promise symbolized by those Stars and Stripes. For the past few days, I’ve looked at the American flag and considered all the reasons I love this land: its wonderful people; its culture and the undying hope that somehow pervades even the worse of times.

Hey, I’m not interested in wearing red, white and blue jump suits, Stars and Stripes ties or shirts made of flags. That’s just tacky. But after November 4th, 2008, I am looking at those colors in a different light.

And I’m not alone. Americans of all races, backgrounds and opinions who, before Obama’s win, wouldn’t be caught dead flaunting the red, white and blue, are talking about hanging themselves a flag. In Old Glory we share the feeling of a new and long overdue pride. It feels weird. But good. Leave it to a Brother to make patriotism cool.


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