Where Loyalties Lie: A Memorial

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I wonder at where Americans’ loyalties lie.

Only a third of us vote. We’re not particularly loyal to the republic.

While our Statue of Liberty invites the world to “give me your tired, your poor/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” our national rhetoric threatens walls to keep them out. We’re not loyal to opportunity.

Nor do we care for our already-citizens. Here in the U.S., men are shot for being black. Legal scholar Patricia Williams calls killing black men a long-standing American ritual, a call and response we all know. As we continue to sing this raced violence, we’re not loyal to equality.

Or, we imprison our citizens of color.  Per the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1 in 3 black men can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime. We’re not loyal to freedom.

Recent legislation restricting women’s rights to our own bodies suggests we’ve backlashed to Europe’s middle ages, when men controlled women because our passionate natures couldn’t be trusted with sound decision-making or morality. In continuing to champion medieval gender constructs, we’re not loyal to the enlightenment thinking our country was founded on.

Perhaps marriage is more equitable now than then. But as they fight same-sex marriage, many of the married or marriagable aren’t loyal to the concept of love, or to all citizens’ pursuit of happiness.

But we’re loyal to sports teams and big box stores.

I recently watched a man refuse his daughter a blue ribbon for her hair, insisting she instead wear red because blue reminded him too much of a rival team. We favor our way through these little loyalties in life and force our little loyalties on others, all the while dismissing larger opportunities to champion values like opportunity, equality, freedom, reason, love, and happiness.

Our fascination with pretty colors doesn’t stop when the ball game ends. We celebrate the colors red, white (by killing, imprisoning, or otherwise silencing our citizens of color), and blue. Or at least we kind of celebrate our nation’s colors on holidays like Memorial Day, when we honor service men and women with big sales events.

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If we were really loyal to our nation’s colors, we’d honor our country and those who serve it by better valuing our ideals. We’d practice good citizenship. We’d hold a flag-waving national holiday when the polls are open rather than when the stores are open, so that we’d have the freedom to vote rather than shop.

If we were really loyal to our nation’s colors, we’d try a bit harder to respect all of our citizens, and we’d try a bit harder not to strip women of reproductive rights and not to strip our citizens of color of democratic voice. Think Jim Crow is the stuff of history books? Today, 15% of Alabama’s black men have lost their right to vote (and their freedom) via felony disenfranchisement.

But instead of championing personal and political freedoms, we place our loyalties in the colors of a Sunday game or a Sunday paper’s advertisements.

Hopefully I’m wrong and we’re more than the sum of our teams and sales. Maybe we’re just easily distracted by easy loyalties. It’s easy enough to like a team or political party or product because others in our communities do. It’s easy enough to choose a side that relies on convenience rather than critical thought.

But can we do away with team and political colors, and the ad campaigns that accompany them? Without pretty colors to cue our loyalties, maybe we’d look for another value to commit to. Maybe we’d instead support ideas and ideals. How about we begin by making election days holidays so that we might celebrate values like opportunity, equality, freedom, reason, love, and the pursuit of happiness rather than dollar values?

 

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