Oh, say can you see…how dangerous this is?

The trending story this week is about an American football player who chose not to stand during the national anthem at a pre-season football game. Sitting it out was his form of protest against a society that continually and systematically discriminates against black people.

If you haven’t heard all the back and forth, it’s not hard to find. I won’t re-hash it.

What this story has done for me (besides making me want to cheer for the black guy who exercised his constitutional rights) is to remind me how disturbing I have always found the playing and singing of the national anthem at large gatherings to be.

It’s not that I don’t like the flag. Or that I don’t like the song. Or that I’m not proud of the United States. Sure, we have plenty to be proud of. We’ve also done (and continue to do) a whole lot of seriously bad shit.

The deal is that I recognize the dangers of nationalism.

Nationalism: a feeling that people have of being loyal to and proud of their country often with the belief that it is better and more important than other countries; a desire by a large group of people (such as people who share the same culture, history, language, etc.) to form a separate and independent nation of their own.

Nationalism run amok created the worldwide travesties that dominated the first half of the 20th century. Refusal to live side by side with people who spoke another language or claimed another heritage. Denigrating those who worshipped differently. Scapegoating an entire ethnic group. Rounding up and killing anyone who doesn’t match a certain image of perfection.

Sounds painfully familiar in the midst of the current election cycle, doesn’t it?

Here’s how it’s couched today: Illegal aliens are taking all our jobs. We have to build a wall between the awesome and superior “us” and the dangerous, drug-peddling “them.” All Muslims are plotting to kill us. We need to vet them, monitor them, send them back. If you don’t blindly swear allegiance to the flag, to the song, and to my beliefs, you don’t belong here.

That’s where nationalism leads, friends. It’s ugly. And it’s dangerous.

When I’m at an event that begins with the crowd standing to sing “Oh, say can you see…” I’m left  chilled. I picture masses of people marching in lockstep to a frenzy of nationalistic fervor. I feel forced to participate in an activity that I don’t agree with. I stand, grudgingly, because I feel pressured. I don’t sing. Don’t put my hand over my heart. Those displays have nothing to do with the sports events, concerts, or theatrical productions I attend. And they have nothing to do with the fundamental principles of this nation.

I prefer to appreciate the successes and failures of the American experiment through studying history. I prefer to show respect for my nation by exercising my civic responsibilities.

I love our country for its devotion to individual liberties and its ability to embrace the wide array of human experience.

Not for its people’s insistence on nationalistic posturing.


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