I am, quite possibly, the most "American" concoction of a human in the country.
I am, at my very core, strictly American. The cultural influences that have shaped me include life in a retired military family, competitive cheerleading in Texas, conservative Texan ways of thinking, (true) libertarian Texan ways of thinking, watching reruns of The Cosby Show, watching new episodes of Touched By An Angel, singing in a church gospel choir, going to an Ivy League school and living in Harlem. All of these things could only happen in the context of an American life.
Ethnically I am African-American, Native American, Irish, French and German. Culturally I grew up only knowing my African-American family (all of whom are descendants of slaves). I have never returned to a "motherland." I have visited Kenya, but that is not where U.S. slaves came from, and thanks to the vast genetic diversity within the African continent my genes are about as Kenyan as they are Chinese. I've visited France and Ireland, but I've never met my father, so I have no real cultural connection to either of those countries.
I feel my Americanness very keenly. The USA is my motherland. When I think about my future here, there is more inevitability attached to it than hopefulness. I know this is where I will make my home because I cannot imagine a life anywhere else -- my roots, my culture, my heritage, are all so American.
The fact that my own fate is intimately tied to this country makes me a particular kind of patriot. My future is inexorably linked to the United States. That is where I am coming from as I transition into adulthood and begin searching for the most productive way to take responsibility of my citizenship. In my attempt to take on this responsibility I must wrestle with the world I have grown up in, and the United States I see.
• I see a military industrial complex draining billions of dollars from the country -- much of which goes to private contracting companies that quite literally would not exist without the promise of war. My country, my America, has entire industries based around war, which is at its core, expensive and deadly.
• I see a surveillance state with a reporting quagmire so oppressive that individuals who speak out face the very real possibility of never being able to return home.
• I see a country creating international policy around fear of extremism while it ignores the increasingly dangerous extremism within our own society.
• I see a country where intellectualism, politics and religion are pitted against one another because not enough people understand the power for human development present in all three.
• I see people completely susceptible to political talking points because they have no deep intellectual understanding of the principles and history this country has grown upon.
• I see constant amnesia -- a complete unwillingness to look back at history logically and apply it to the future wisely. We repeat the same wars, we repeat similar civil rights violations, and we repeat faulty investments while failing to invest in sustainable ones. We continue to function in the world as if it is not one of consequences.
• I see Christopher Columbus celebrated on the calendar and in textbooks, a man who wrote in his own letters of his barbaric treatment of hundreds of thousands of people.
• I see racial wounds so deep that when the scabs are picked the whole country boils over in extreme discomfort. This phenomenon is fairly easy to trace back through history to the principles of racial fear the country was founded upon, none of which we have ever truly addressed.
• I see a populace consuming and regurgitating narratives of irresponsible poor people milking American coffers dry, while Wall Street continues to function as if its irresponsibility did not plummet the entire world into an economic crisis.
• I see industries that once brought America together becoming so inefficient they are tearing us apart. Airline prices prohibit entire sections of the population from traveling far beyond the borders of their states, and the postal service cannot dream of functioning as well as its private competitors.
• I see a pharmaceutical and medical industry thriving on treating diseases once they've been allowed to flourish rather than preventing them from happening in the first place.
• I see a food industry set up to feed millions for profit without nourishing them, and people who have no alternative because most have no intuitive understanding of how to truly nourish their own bodies.
• I see politicians who know nothing about the intricacies of the lives of their constituents, but who have CEOs on speed dial.
I often hear that changing these things would just be "too expensive," or that these ideas are "too radical." I am truly baffled by that line of thinking. What is the cost of an entire nation of people with no knowledge of how to nourish their bodies with fresh food? What is the cost of a citizenship that marinates in its contempt and distrust of one another? What is the cost to our global credibility when we've become the country who cries wolf in favor of war? What is the cost to our "democracy" when an entire state of voters holds less weight in an election than one person (or corporation) with deep pockets? What is the cost of not investing in every child living here -- our most valuable national resource? We are living in an unsustainable America and that, to me, is what is radical.
I have been called unpatriotic for voicing these observations, and I have seen public figures called unpatriotic for voicing similar concerns. I find this to be the most appalling and inexcusable tendency in American discourse, public and private. If we cannot point out our flaws who must?
If we are not willing to grow as the country we are rather than the country a select few wish we were, where will we go? The answer, I can say with complete certainty even at my young 24 years of age, is nowhere good. I have not been alive long enough to see three full decades pass, but I do have the basic inherent understanding that what goes up must come down, resources used must be replenished, and human capital left neglected will ignite.
It would be unwise, dear elders, to assume that young people somehow "don't understand," or are "too young to know." If you believe that is the case, listen to us, and then respond. Think out the reasons you have chosen this path, and then start conversations laced with logic so us young ones may absorb your knowledge in an applicable way.
Do not, however, make the mistake of believing we are not seriously invested in the future of this country. Know that more people than ever before are uniquely and unequivocally American who do not look like you, think like you or feel like you. We see America differently because we have lived it differently. But we have the same human concerns and insecurities as you: fear of failing, fear of being alone, fear of infertility, fear of fertility, fear of inadequacy, fear of sadness -- the list is as vast as the population of humans on Earth.
While we Americans struggle day to day with these universal inner complexities, it would be unwise to continue in the delusion that the patriotic American has a particular look, a particular way of thinking, or a particular way of being.
If you want to be a patriotic American, look at America as it is. Acknowledge the human potential in this country as it exists rather than how you wish it to be. Listen to the observations of the young with curiosity rather than contempt. Seek out and embrace the realities of our history rather than hiding from it.
The truly unpatriotic thing to do, it seems to me, is to continue to proclaim that we are unequivocally the best, or as it is most often phrased, exceptional. The situation is much like a parent who refuses to address a child's behavior problem. The parent loves the child and therefore can't imagine finding fault with him, but in the end we all know a child raised this way rarely turns out well.
The United States is, quite literally, the brainchild of a handful of very intelligent men who provided a framework which they specifically dictated should be changed with the times. They understood the reality that without self-scrutiny and evolution no country can stay healthy.
The duty of a patriotic American is to be diligent about raising this young country.