The morning the Supreme Court ruled “gay marriage” legal, I sat up in bed and called my sister. Later, my girlfriend now fiance would ask me why it wasn’t her, first. I don’t have a perfect answer to that, except for I was part of something before everything, and that person was my sister.
Part of something before everything. Who was I before I was anything else? There are lots of words to describe all of us that we didn’t ask for: straight, girl, boy, mother. We grow up and we decide for ourselves; we shed the weight of the words that weigh heavy on us since birth.
I was born a citizen of the United States of America. My patriotism rotted at the root in Sociology classes in college that were accurate, but, frankly, lacked true perspective. In the Midwest, people often go to college to forget where they come from. There are plenty of valid reasons for that. I did. What it really means is to shed the weight of burdens that never belonged to you. For a long time, shedding the weight of being an American felt right to me.
Until it didn’t.
We are in an age, my peers are at least, where we must be accountable to the heritage we have, not what we chose. I was born an American. During this election, I realized that this is something that I cannot shed.
It’s important to know that the U.S.A. was built on the backs of black people, and that this replicates itself today through incarceration. It’s important to know that this country was built and runs on the backs of brown people, who we constantly villianize.
It’s important to know that just because you know this, you aren’t any less American. It’s most important to take responsibility for your heritage.
How? I don’t have all the answers. But there is a sense of reclamation in this; a sense of defiance, of pride, of saying, “no, you will not disgrace my country with hate speech, bigotry, and intolerance – I am here to stand for the progress we have made, and to help push us forward into a better future.” My starting point comes from the commitment to not let those voices drown out mine; drown out ours.
My neighbors down the street, all of election season, flew a giant American flag alongside all of their Trump signs. Every time I walked past that house while walking my dog, I felt as if I didn’t belong; isolated. In the days after the election, I thought to myself, I am just as much of an American as they are and I belong.
I bought an American flag to put on my house.
We have incredible Americans to remember and to look to. I refuse to allow them to go unnamed; to put them in the shadows by stating my shame. I stand with the Americans that made this country what it is. I stand with Ellis Island and its open arms.
I stand with the Statue of Liberty, in all her glory.
I stand with whatever woman stitched together our flag for the first time. I am an American, and I stand with Sylvia Rivera, Assata Shakur, Ida B. Wells, Janet Mock, Michelle Tea, Harvey Milk, Martin Luther King, Jr., Cory Booker, Oprah Winfrey, Margaret Sanger, Amy Hagstrom Miller, Emma Goldman, bell hooks, Kimberle Crenshaw, Michelle Obama, Former President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and so, so many more incredible Americans who have given us the knowledge, the theory, the praxis, and the grit.
I have a responsibility as an American to own my country, my constitution, and my government. To acknowledge its flaws and injustices. I have the responsibility to not discredit the brothers and sisters in my country who have given themselves to bring justice, peace, and equality to our nation. This is what it means to be a good American. This is the ultimate patriotism. This is “…the joyous work of citizenship,” that Former President Obama spoke of in farewell words.
I will not rescind what was mine by birth; I will fight to ensure that my country makes good on its promises. I am my sisters’ keeper. I fly an American flag outside of my home, because I belong here, and so do you.