Of Houses and Homes

| January 5, 2018 | 0 Comments

If you look up the definition of “patriotism” on Google, one of the first things to pop up is a wikipedia article that, in its first sentence, describes patriotism as “an attachment to a homeland.” Merriam-Webster defines it as “love for or devotion to one’s country.” Dictionary.com lists under its synonyms the words “loyalty,” “nationalism,” “allegiance,” and “chauvinism.”

If I could write my own definition of the word, it’d be this: “the love of a location; a belief system that values plots of land more than the individuals that live on them.”

Patriotism, I think, is one of the most terrifying things in the world. When you love someone, you love them no matter their faults. When someone insults your family or your friends, the impulse is to get angry, to defend them, and to love them more fiercely. By personifying America, by making it into an object of love, you can successfully turn any criticism or protest of America – from a march in the streets to a black man kneeling during a football game – into a personal attack against someone you love.

But America isn’t a person. It’s a place. And patriotism tells you that you should love America more than the Americans living in it.

House (n.)- a building that serves as living quarters for one or a few families

Home (n.)- the social unit formed by a family living together

I’ve moved twice in my life. The first time, I was way too young to remember it, but the second time was in high school. It wasn’t that big a change– I was moving into another house in town, so I wouldn’t even have to change schools. But I was still leaving a place that I ate, slept, and lived in for over a decade. It was a sort of sad.

But no one in my family cried over that old house. Because what was important about it wasn’t ever the house itself, but the people in it.

It’s important, of course, to have a good place to live. But the impulse of American patriotism is to care more about the house than the family. It’s the equivalent of me asking my dad to unclog the toilet downstairs and have him answer that “the toilet doesn’t need unclogging” or “that’s just how the toilet is” or “the plumbing system will fix itself” or “why do you hate the toilet?” Because to fix something about the house, you have to point out that there’s something wrong with the house. But if you love the house like a true patriotic American, you obviously can’t criticize it, because that would be criticizing someone you love, and that’s bad. So the toilet stays clogged and your dad continues to deny that anything is wrong with the toilet until it overflows or you fix it yourself.

Howard Thurman once said that “during times of war, hatred becomes quite respectable even though it has to masquerade often under the guise of patriotism.” And I agree with this assessment. When you value houses over individuals, it becomes very easy to disregard the importance, the lives, the personhood of the people living in them. Which makes it all the easier to break their windows. To burn them down. To hate.

But what happens when that impulse turns inward? When someone loves their house so much that they ignore any problems with it? When that house is a country and the family is three hundred million people, and the toilet can be anything from police brutality to a crumbling infrastructure?

What’s dangerous about patriotism is its impulse to reject self-reflection under the guise of love. What Americans need to realize is that America isn’t a person that needs defending. It’s a house that needs to be fixed so that everyone living in it can go to god damn the bathroom in peace.

photo credit: Greyframe Where did you go? via photopin (license)

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Category: featured, Thurman Thoughts

Isabella Amorim

About the Author ()

Isabella "Izzy" Amorim's hobbies include writing for Culture Shock, spending inordinate amounts of time in BU dining halls, and purchasing children's tickets at movie theaters with her baby face. Play the system, kids.

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