For the past week, the prevailing national conversations spring boarded by Colin Kaepernick's protest have primarily dealt with the level of patriotism possessed by Kaepernick and others aligned with his beliefs about our country and supportive of his means of protest. Some of this conversation has existed in the form of nuanced acknowledgements of the very real and relevant sources for Kaepernick's (and other's) ambivalence. And, of course, some of this conversation has been predictably terrible; where blind and mindless loyalty to both our country and the symbols representing it — even if the country hasn't been particularly loyal to us — seems to be the expectation.
Either way, the spotlight is shining on us and our complex relationship(s) to the ideal of patriotism. And the spotlight is shining in the wrong direction.
Black Americans are Americans. Living and breathing citizens of this country; many of whom can trace our lineages here back hundreds of years. Maybe our (collective) feelings about America are complex and perhaps our patriotism can be doubted at times (and for good reason). But one thing is simple: We are American citizens. This is an inextricable truth. A truth that remains true despite a history (and present) of that citizenship being doubted, questioned, and even outright dismissed.
But we are Americans. And for the Black American, the 300 million other American citizens are our countrymen. Which is why we need to start doubting the patriotic bonafides of those doubting ours.
Patriotism isn't just an infatuation with and fanaticism for symbols and abstractions. It's a steadfastness in making sure the country's professed ideals aren't just honored and protected, but extended to each of its citizens. It's not standing for the flag, it's fighting for what the flag is supposed to stand for. It's wanting to keep your countrymen — all of them — safe.
Maybe Colin Kaepernick isn't particularly patriotic. But if you can't bother to be concerned about the centuries-long and impregnable mistreatment of millions of your fellow Americans, neither are you.