Patriotism and The Racial Conversation

patriotism

In God we Trust. This phrase is on our 1, 5, 20, and 50 dollar bills (who carries cash anymore?). This week it will be on the lips of many as we celebrate our nation's freedom. But for some, at least for me, it can do more harm than good. Why? Because it has been more of a warcry than a celebratory cheer.  When speaking on the topic of racism, patriotism has been used as a counter-cry to protest, or sometimes a dismissal to pleas for justice and recognition. Patriotism has scarred me.

I want to be vulnerable here. Yet I know that some will start to shut me out at the offset of this blog. But hear me out. I have nothing against someone being a patriotic person.  Patriotism, by definition, is "love for or devotion to one's country." There is no sin in loving one's country, save for when it takes the place of our kingdom mindset and devotion. When it takes the place of Jesus, it's sin. But other than that, patriotism is an open-handed issue for me. 

However, in the recent years, there has been an uptick in which patriotism is being brought into the conversation about racism. Usually, it is not for the better. There has been no greater example of this than the NFL kneeling.  In that dialogue, news channels, bloggers, and people across the spectrum reacted with one summation: it is unpatriotic to kneel. Now whether you agree that kneeling is patriotic or not is not what I am going to debate here. But calling a minority unpatriotic because of their views on racism and how to deal with it can come across as an attack on them. The addressing of racism is a very patriotic thing. It is a very biblical thing even more so. 

There are many views on what patriotism looks like and who is really patriotic. I want to take a different approach. I would like to offer three things to consider when talking to African Americans about patriotism.

First, please recognize that many (not all) African Americans can have a very different view of patriotism than white Americans. Here's a little historical timeline to help. Slavery began in America in 1619. The Declaration of Independence was signed July 1, 1776, and adopted on July 4, 1776. The Revolutionary War was won in 1785. Slavery wasn't "ended" until the close of the Civil war on May 13. 1865 (this not accounting for Juneteenth). So in the 246-year span from when slavery was started and ended, white Americans won their freedom while black people suffered slavery. And this isn't accounting for Jim Crow, historical redlining, segregation, the Civil Rights Movement, and even today's issues. I remember reading this in history class as a child and thinking "that doesn't make sense." Patriotism that seemingly ignores the historical and present-day racial concerns is not the patriotism that a minority will understand nor would want to relate to.

Second, patriotism as an argument against talking about racism comes across as demeaning. I cannot count the times in which I have watched an online debate on racism that had at least one person state "God bless America!" or "You should be grateful you are in such a good country." Such statements, especially as a rebuttal to racial dialogue, comes across as patronizing rather than patriotic. Now I can understand people saying that some may not have the malicious intent. I understand that. But intent aside, the result is the same. I myself have been told that I am a racist because I didn't align myself with the "right" political party (I'm not on the left either). I've been told I am unpatriotic for simply questioning the "greatness" of America. It can come across like a parent scolding their child. This is not to say one cannot talk about patriotism, but rather be aware of the context in which you use it. 

Thirdly, keep a "sojourner" mindset instead of patriotic when talking to African Americans. What I mean by this is have a heaven-focused view. This earth, this country is not our home. African Americans have believed or at least felt this from the very beginning of slavery till today. It was in old songs like "Sweet Chariot." Through history, the black church has echoed this teaching. They had to in order to endure sufferings and pains. The belief of being a sojourner is a biblical one (Psalm 119:19; 1 Pet. 2:11-12; Heb. 11:13). That is why many black Christians will look towards the second coming of Jesus for restoration. They will also simultaneously live out Jeremiah 29:7, seeking the welfare of the land that is not their own. This is the call for all Christians. All Christians are foreigners in this world and should long for their true home in heaven! Remember this first instead of patriotism and we will find ourselves not only discussing racial reconciliation from a biblical worldview but will fellowship on a deeper level than patriotism.

PatriotismMatt Bryant