What’s A Patriot, Anyway?

Javier Jaén- Flag by Jon Helgason

Growing up in Massachusetts this word, “patriot,” was thrown in my face a lot. We even have a holiday day celebrating patriots, complete with parades, reenactments, and no work or school. It wasn’t until I came to college when I asked a friend whether we got off school for Patriot’s Day that I realized, from her very confused expression, that this day is not a national holiday and many people have never even heard of it. A recent article I read in The New York Times Magazine by Wesley Morris, Colin Kaepernick and Who Gets to be Called a ‘Patriot’, led me to reflect upon how my upbringing in a small New England town centered around this idea of patriotism influenced what being a patriot means to me.

Patriot’s Day is the celebration of the American Revolution, the shot heard round the world, and the establishment of the United States of America. To me, being a patriot means being proud of your country and standing up for what you believe in, just like the revolutionaries did many years ago. However, being proud of your country sometimes requires change and work, just as during the establishment of the United States the revolutionaries worked hard to make this country a country that they are proud of.

Wesley Morris highlights how the definition of a patriot has evolved and, “morphed into a matter of optics — of theater” and people are unable to “question what it is good for or examine its elasticity”. The title of patriot in the U.S. is reserved for those who love the country, show their love, and do not question the definition. However, what happens when symbols of patriotism, such as the national anthem, are exposed in the ways that they exclude a huge portion of the population? I recently became aware of a part of the original star spangled banner that talks about not being able to save slaves from their graves. The line in the national anthem “home of the brave” rhymes with two lines about putting slaves not being able to escape the doom of their grave. This symbol of patriotism is tainted with the roots of oppression and racism.

Morris goes on to talk about how anyone who wants to be considered a true patriot is unable to question the country they are supporting and he is outraged by the way in which this modern definition excludes anyone in the population who thinks the United States of America has some things the population needs to work on. The original patriots, those revolutionaries many years ago, stood up for what they believed in and questioned the authority. By this definition Colin Kaepernick is one brave patriot. Everyone may not understand why he is choosing to protest the way he is, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a patriot. Could he possibly be more of a patriot than those professing their unquestioning love for the United States?