Tuesday, July 27, 2021

An Attitude of Gratitude

Now that the Olympics are underway, I fully expect to see daily demonstrations of over-emotional American patriotism on display. This is not a critique, because I can only imagine the intense swell of emotion in that moment when one is being awarded an Olympic medal. And that adrenaline rush must be heightened if you happen to win gold and get to stand atop the medal platform while the Star Spangled Banner is played...yeah, the tears are gonna flow. 

So the perspective I bring today is to remind those who would argue that American citizens of color, particularly Black athletes, are insufficiently patriotic to stuff it. Button up and don't say another word for the next two weeks. As a matter of fact, you can keep your racist hypocrisy to yourself forever since we all know that a good third of the medals that will adorn American necks will be earned by athletes of color.

Of course you won't keep your feelings and opinions to yourself. What gives me, some uppity Busy Black Woman the right to...

Exactly. I have no more right to demand that you shut the fuck up any more than you have the right to deport, silence, or police the actions of American athletes whose political ideologies you oppose. While it is annoying, you have the right to express your wrong opinions, even from the safety of your mother's basement. So what makes an athlete different? For that matter, what gives you the right to narrowly define love for one's country in the form of a particular gesture, the cut and fit of flag decorated attire, or whether one sings the anthem on key? 

There are answers to those rhetorical questions, but that isn't the point of this rant either. I'm not here to argue over the flag, the anthem, Ralph Lauren, or any other superficial ground that I've covered in the past. I'm here to make a more salient case against substituting your judgment for someone else's.

If the past week is any guide, patriotism is a moving target. On Thursday night, a second Member of Congress was arrested for loitering in the Senate Office Buildings because he was protesting against the Senate filibuster being used to subvert a voting rights bill. Earlier that same day, one of the main instigators of the January 6th insurrection got suspended from Twitter for 12 hours while another one of her co-conspirators whinged that he should have been allowed to sit on the investigative committee to determine the cause of said insurrection that he supported and probably abetted. I know, make it make sense...

Make it make sense that there are obviously rules that apply to some people and not to others. I am incensed that the first conviction of a participant in the Capitol insurrection resulted in an eight month sentence while a Black woman in Texas who thought she could vote got five years--a "felony" plea deal for violence versus a felony for making an unarmed mistake that literally could have been tossed in the trash. But if I complain about the discrepancy, I need to move to another country? Because even when confronted by such an obvious miscarriage of justice, I am supposed to be grateful not to be in her shoes. I am compelled to demonstrate my appreciation in a pre-approved gesture of patriotic genuflections that sufficiently satisfies Karen and John and Chad and Becky and Megyn Jesus-is-white-and-Santa-too Kelly, lest I forfeit my right to call myself an American?

Make it make sense that in a span of ten days, two billionaires took joy rides into outer space, spending millions of their own money (in an effort to win government contracts funded by taxpayers), but some folks here on terra ferma are offended that there are poor people who own Smartphones while living in subsidized public housing. The lap of luxury it ain't, but the cost of living on the taxpayer dime is that we're reassured that the recipients are sufficiently chastened by their squalid conditions. No poor person needs to be eating brie or drinking Evian when government cheese and lead-contaminated drinking water is free. There is no dignity in being poor, so depravation and suffering are our taxpayer receipts. No one consulted me if I prefer for my purchases on Amazon (which get taxed by the way) to fund vanity projects instead of worker salaries and health care. Therefore as a consumer, if I don't have a say in how Bozo and Briney spend their fortunes, then as a taxpayer, no I am not offended that some hourly wage worker who needs food stamps to feed her children has a Virgin mobile phone. As an American citizen, I care that she lives in a food desert and that her neighborhood isn't safe, even with over-policing. 

As such, I will continue to speak up against injustice and cheer on Team USA. That's right, I said cheer for Team USA even if the athletes kneel during the anthem, happy dance, raise a black gloved fist, ugly cry, make faces, or wrap themselves in the flag while taking a victory lap. I will celebrate their excellence and then get right back to marching in these streets.

Miss me with your conditional patriotism that criticizes athletes for using their platforms to advocate for social justice instead of selling shit nobody needs. The fact that some of the most vocal mofos out here on these Twitter streets that are hating on Megan Rapinoe for kneeling have also supported the Big Lie tells me everything I need to know about their values. Not that I am at all surprised, but what I expected over the course of the next two weeks was that we are all on Team USA. That we would suspend some of these disagreements because all that matters are the accumulation of medals. We all love America, but some of y'all only love this country when things work to your advantage. So does that mean you will spend the next two weeks curled up in your American flag blankets betting against the United States? If so, then your cheers are personal, not patriotic. 

And what's worse is that you would contrast athletes like Rapinoe and LeBron James with someone whom you deem more humble and admirable as more worthy of your admiration. Last week an old photo resurfaced of Sadio Mane, the Senegalese-born soccer player seen walking around with a broken phone. His explanation that he doesn't need flashy cars and stuff  because he chooses to spend his earnings to serve the needs of his community hit all the right notes with you self-righteous flag-wavers. Never mind that James opened a whole school in his hometown...

But let's take a moment to asses that disconnect for a moment, because some of you have overlooked the various layers of irony at play. Mane plays professionally in England and gets paid big money that he sends back home to Senegal. (Remember, one of the sh*thole countries as described by the DESPOTUS; feel free to learn a few facts here.) Mane played for Senegal in the 2012 Olympics, a country that sent a total of nine (9) athletes to Tokyo. Senegal will be the first African nation to host the Youth Olympic Games in 2026

So yes, his largesse is indeed laudable...any introspection as to why that might be? Perchance, the conditions in his home country are similar to what motivates Black athletes in this country to share their newfound wealth in their old neighborhoods? And due to these impoverished conditions, which are the manifestation of colonialism and apartheid, or the legacy of racial segregation in America, it is incumbent on athletes like Mane to overcome them. He pulled himself up by his sneaker laces. His success exempts the colonizers from responsibility; no different than how individual American success exempts the racists, the sexists, and the homophobes. American athletes choose to give and floss--they earned it, just like Bezos and his billion dollar space dick.

(And lest anyone gets it twisted, there are racial issues across the pond in the UK too, which they protested by kneeling on the field, received backlash for, along with the racist taunts that mirror much of the same faux patriotic sentiments.)

Yet, the issue is not about humility or charitable impulses, but ideology. Because Americans don't care enough about soccer or Africa or the hood, but let somebody say Black Lives Matter and y'all get triggered. If you really knew more about Sadio Mane, would he still be deserving of your approval? Or does the narrative of his selflessness affirm your worldview that Black athletes ought to be grateful for these opportunities, not that they are talented, disciplined, or hardworking? Show more humility, because we could have just left you in the slums...next door to that poor mother with the cheap Smartphone and three kids whom we resent. 

You people ought to be more gracious that we allow you to represent our country. You too Megan Rapinoe, because the same applies to the gays. Be grateful that we tolerate your homosexuality because your job is to entertain us. Your successes affirm American hegemony, which is contradicted if you call us out on our hypocrisy. Why can't you be a Patriot Buccaneer like Tom Brady and listen and learn from your teammates while you grift the American taxpayers...

That last sentence may go over a lot of heads, but it's fine that you don't get the irony or the point. Perhaps it is me that doesn't get that patriotism is personal, especially to hard-working Americans (or Brits) who just want their country their way. Some of us just want it to be a more inclusive, tolerant, equitable, and free (as in land of) society. 

I digress, because I need to get back to watching these Games. I want to reminisce to when my brothers and I wanted to become track stars so we practiced long-jumping across the cracks in the sidewalk. I remember how exciting it was to watch Mary Lou Retton* stick that landing and accept her gold medal. It was equally inspiring to watch Dominique Dawes, Gabby Douglass, and now to watch Simone Biles. When we took swimming lessons one summer and my brother seemed to take to it like a fish, we joked that he could make the US team. As I try to recall what I did with all of my Olympic souvenirs from the 1996 Games in Atlanta, the fond memories include getting blessed with tickets to see the American women play basketball (and how their success begat the WNBA). I was also thinking of how I need to pay attention to who might be giving us some real competition in these Olympic streets. I've got a few pennies to drop some on a couple of jerseys for my nieces and nephews, because there is a whole world of sport heroes to emulate. 

I love the Olympics and every two years I look forward to cheering on Team USA. But everyday, I wake up determined to pursue the work of improving this nation because patriotism must mean more than just knee-jerk love for one's country in spite of its flaws. It is that kind of love that challenges us to strive to always do better each time we jump into the pool, take to the field, hit the track, or set our sights on reaching the stars. 

* Edit, it was Kerri Strug (1996), not Mary Lou Retton (1984), who limped up to the medal stand. 

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