It is not moral, right or smart to blindly support your country- either country of origin or the country in which you live. Patriotism, at it’s heart, is about making a country more than it was, better than it was- but in a post truth state, the diminishing of a country is now seen as sovereignty.
Whichever example you would like to choose, from the US election and the subsequent attempt at a coup from ardent Trump supporters, to Brexit and the ongoing disaster of it’s completion – it fails to strike me as a positive to refer to yourself as “a patriot” these days.
And as the BLM movement educated me on the atrocities, both historical and disturbingly current, that the UK Empire committed in the name of “Queen and country” and I joined marches, stood with my neck burning in the sun in honour of people I wanted to show solidarity (at the very least) with and saw groups of angry thugs- they don’t deserve the title of “counter protesters”- I found myself amazed how many people flocked to defend stones like the Cenotaph or statues of slave traders or Churchill himself, rather than the lives and liberties of their fellow countrymen- their fellow humans.
The blank stares of a statue do nothing to uplift your national pride until, apparently, they are under threat- then suddenly they must be protected. Why, I wondered then- and still do now- did the angry Anti-antifascists decide that we as a group would target and damage a war memorial? Did they not know about the foreign regiments whose names were carved indelibly into that stone alongside their white British fellows? Did they not understand that they were protecting a monument that stood as a testament to lives lost to protest fascism?
I fear the answer is no. Looking at those facts I am on the verge of almost laughing at the absurdity of the situation – but it comes from a darker place. I strongly recommend the podcast “enemies of the people” episode 3, with host Dr. Maria W. Norris, expert on radicalisation and terorrism & Alex von Tunzelmann on Statues as Stories, which gives depth and nuance to the discussion of why statues as controversy and their desecration, relocation or revelations of their history is not actually a new and frightening concept in other democracies.
Nationalistic thinking is not, necessarily, a terrible thing. But when nationalism becomes fanaticism and the failings of the state are overlooked or even embraced by its populace in the name of “Making America Great Again” or “Taking Back Control”, or “Building Back Better”, you find empty rhetoric and those backing the changes paradoxically suffering from the issues created from this small minded “anti-other” way of life.
Reading studies that link white nationalism and racism, there is an oft assumed stance that racial politics is an ungentrified aspect, purely of modern politics itself, that those of the mid and upper classes are not racist- and this view is perpetuated by those who wish to keep this incorrect distinction:
It appears that what I often call white nationalism is by it’s nature multi class, but certain classes actively attempt to hide their association with it.
Racism and nationalism are closely intertwined- to see someone from another land as “other” and to decide that you cannot wholly be from a country based on the colour of your skin (everyone has seen the awkward exchange between David Lammy and the “you’re not British” woman, surely), and the idea that racial disparity both does not exist but is also responsible for negative (and often false) tropes directed at people of colour is yet another complete misconception of basic information, either wilfully misinterpreted or misunderstood.
The push back against critical race theory is ludicrous – if you are proud of your state and wish to understand it’s formation then accepting it’s mistakes is a key part of the continued societal growth. Ignoring it’s seemly underbelly in favour of pretending that no mistakes were made allows for resentment from those who suffered to rot the foundations formed from these heinous acts. Instead of acceptance, reparation and growth taking place, denial weakens the fabric of the society.
But again, this comes back to the schroedinger’s insistence that the UK Empire did nothing wrong, that the conquering forefathers of America were correct in committing their atrocities against indigenous peoples or enslaving people and decimating their cultures was simply a part of history that needs to be glossed over because they were products of their time: Which is it, that they did nothing wrong or that what they did wasn’t wrong at the time and so should be overlooked?
I wonder how many people who are able to blithely write off the crimes of our past would be willing to do so were it people like they who had suffered for the benefit of imperialism.
To blithely state that your country has done nothing wrong is to condemn it to stagnate- for only through acceptance of wrongdoing can we learn from our past and grow to do better. And it is this strange mismanagement of fact that I find nationalists so often miss.
If your country has arguably damaged itself in standing in the world through a display of xenophobia – yes, Brexit was seen as such globally – backed up by endless examples of small England syndrome in the press:
and to compound this by pretending that you will still be seen as you were after endorsing such disparagement and in fact promoting it, you are blinded by… what? Patriotism?
Patriotism after all is not simply the act of supporting your country blindly – it is supporting your country to be better. Brexit allowed us to shuck off the imagined chains of EU Beauracracy, and the sovereignty so many were eager for has, at long last, arrived… in the guise of a PM whose personal life is a graveyard of personal scandals, a home secretary who took from public coffers to pay off victims of her bullying and who was accused of working with foreign powers in her previous role. We had a health secretary who conducted an affair at a crucial moment during the pandemic, a new health secretary who claims he is “opening a new hospital” when he is simply opening a new wing of an existing hospital- even today, we have an education secretary so inept that he appears surprised when questioned on the fact that schools are already back and do not have the vital equipment he promised to attempt to mitigate COVID spread.
In addition we have food shortages, businesses going bust, industries that unknowingly relied on EU buyers or products who vociferously backed brexit failing as a result of their misinformed choice, doctors are prioritising who can have blood tests because there are no blood tubes and even if they existed they can’t be delivered… It appears that our sovereignty is the freedom to undo any perceived greatness in the name of political snobbery, and to damage our society at fundamental levels, and all the while those who backed the severance of our EU membership cheer and sing the national anthem in the face of the brexit fallout.
When our alleged greatness came at the expense and hard work of foreign nationals either forced into servitude in chains or brought to the UK through schemes and requirements- then unfairly deported- was it really our greatness in the first place, or did we just allow others to come here, express their greatness and then speak over them to proclaim our wonder at what we achieved.
Am I patriotic
Why would I be patriotic when the examples of perceived patriotism we have so prominently at the moment are disgraced ex presidents who were twice impeached and who performed coups to try to maintain power in the face of a democratic vote? Or a prime minister whose perceived bumbling belies a man desperate to obtain power but uninterested in dispensing it for the gain of those in need?
Patriotism has always been an odd concept to me- I don’t owe anyone my fealty just because I was born on an island they also were, or that they govern. I am my own person, and my patriotism extends to ensuring that I support the democracy of the system I’m included in- and at the moment, I see no democracy. And I may feel a spark of patriotism if the UK could face up to the atrocities that made it instead of shirking it’s chance to move forward into an age where we don’t cower from our past but embrace that we can be different and better.
Until UK citizens realise we are falling victim to a denial that perpetuates a class and racial divide that allows rule by elites who do not know or care about our struggles, and until we reframe nationalism away from fanatic flag waving and gesture politics, so will the cycle of make mistake, forget mistake, make mistake continue.
The union jack at it’s core now represents unsavoury things to me, and that is truly a shame. I used to think of it as a symbol of quintessential UK togetherness and now I only seem to see it hanging limply from buildings empty because it’s staff are unwell with covid, or on the twitter profiles of rampant xenophobes who want the freedom to starve, get sick and will all the while offshift blame onto remoaners or foreigners or whoever else a compliant media will highlight that day.
This is the British dream you need to wake up from – the ruins of the country around you are your fault- those you decry are the ones who tried to prop it up on their backs and were crushed under the weight of your arrogance.