Thursday, June 12, 2008

“Proud” of my country?

This morning, in the Chicago Tribune, I read the following quote of Tennessee state GOP chair Robin Smith, about Michelle Obama (you may recall that Mrs. Obama stated, after one of her husband’s primary wins, that she felt “proud” of her country for the first time in her adult life):

“Her comments substantiated that Barack Obama and his wife don’t relate to the average American, who still flies the flag on the 4th of July, still gets chills when the Air Force planes fly over… It just feeds the narrative that they’re essentially out of touch with America.”

Personally, I found that comment insulting and condescending. Why? Because, I think I understand exactly what Mrs. Obama meant or felt when she made that oft-quoted comment. For one thing, Mrs. Obama and I share at least one thing in common: We are both Black. We have both experienced living as Black people in America. Am I, somehow, “out of touch with America” because I can relate to Mrs. Obama? I don’t think so. I am a native-born American. My family has been in this country at least 180 years (my best guess as to when my most recent African ancestor was brought to this country as a slave). My grandfather and my father-in-law were World War II veterans. One of my uncles served in the Peace Corps. This is my country and I don’t desire to live anywhere else. It is for these reasons—and because I understand where Mrs. Obama is coming from—that I seriously doubt Sen. and Mrs. Obama are out of touch with America.

On the contrary, I think Ms. Smith is out of touch with Black Americans.

You see, I grew up in an all-Black neighborhood (and it wasn’t a “ghetto”, by the way). I don’t recall many flags flying on the 4th of July, nor do I recall many (if any) Blacks relating to me how Air Force jets flying in formation overhead gave them chills. Does Ms. Smith think that Black people like those who lived in my old neighborhood were, somehow, un-American because they didn’t get goose bumps over the mere mention of the USA?

Do I love my country? Yes, I do. However, I also recognize that my country has been guilty of sponsoring or condoning or tolerating injustice towards people of African descent (and other ethnic groups, also) ever since we became a country. Further, I know that racism, racial discrimination and racial prejudice still exist in my country. Nevertheless, I do love my country. Why is it that some people equate love with lying? Can’t I tell the truth and still love? Does love for my country require that I not tell the truth about my country?

Do I think there has been no improvement in justice and race relations in our country over the past 232 years that we’ve been a nation? Of course not! There has been great improvement and advancement in race relations over the past 40 years. Racism is now illegal everywhere, and overt racial discrimination is rare. But, it would be less than honest for me not to admit that, in general, Black people are still not treated equally. Racism and racial and ethnic discrimination nowadays is, for the most part, covert and subtle, hard to detect and even harder to prove, but it still exists.

So, I think I understand why Mrs. Obama said she was proud of this country for the first time in her adult life. I certainly never thought I’d see the day when a Black man would become the presumptive nominee of a major political party. I think most Black people can understand and relate to Mrs. Obama.

Here’s the question, however: Can Ms. Smith (or anyone who shares her expressed view of the Obamas) relate to the average Black person?

Here’s another question: Why is it so important for the Obamas—or anyone else—to be proud of the United States?

I will gladly admit to anyone that I’m grateful for my country. I thank God for the United States. But, “proud” is not a word I would want to use. Why would I want to boast in the United States? What do we as a country have to proud about? We have much to be ashamed of, but why should we boast? If there’s anything good about our country (and, don’t misunderstand, there are many good things about this country), the credit belongs to God, and only to God. Therefore, we should not boast. Remember, “God resists the proud” (I know that truth applies to individuals, but does it not also apply to countries as well?).

I don’t believe that Mrs. Obama not being proud of her country before now is a problem. I think, perhaps, the problem is that those who were so offended by her comment are too proud.


David Zook said...

Wyeth -

Thanks for being so transparent and provocative. If I may I would like to suggest a number of things that regardless of race that we can be proud of.

We can be proud of the fact that our country with all of our warts is the longest standing democracy in the world.

We can be proud of the fact that people from around the world who are oppressed (economically and politically)find ways to our nation because they know that our nation is a land of opportunity.

I am proud of the fact that when I have traveled abroad and have witnessed how others live (both politically and economically) that my grandfathers and their grandfathers and their grandfathers and their grandfathers have initially fought for and subsequently defended our liberty, our right to freely assemble and our right to freely express our religion.

I am proud of the fact that if you have a dream in this nation you can achieve it.

I am proud of the fact that goodness and truth defeated the heinous practice of slavery and the individual rights of states to permit it.

I am proud of the fact that when a natural disaster of gigantic proportions occur regardless wherever it is in the world that our nation responds with compassion and generosity.

I could go on and on...

I would agree that God rejects the proud, but I think that is in a arrogant, self-reliant way not in a reflective achievement way. For instance, I think that we can take pride in our children all the while knowing that it is God through His Spirit that is ultimately guiding us.

Thanks again for the post, I enjoy reading them.

David Zook

Hey if you get a chance, check out a new blog of mine. http://diaries

wwdunc said...

Thanks, David, for reading and responding so thoughtfully.

I think you bring up some excellent points, things about our country which all of us can genuinely appreciate. Certainly this country does much good in the world, and our particular form of government gives us freedoms which those in other countries can only dream about.

However, I still have trouble using the word “pride”, whether in relation to individuals or to our country. I don’t even like saying I’m proud of my children. The word “pride” implies we had something to do with that of which we’re proud. Don’t misunderstand, I’m very pleased with my two children—they are good kids—but they are that way in spite of my sin and stupidity. In the same way, it seems to me that good things have come to the United States and have been done through the effort of Americans, but it has happened in spite of our national sins. Like the song says, “God shed His grace on thee”; but, I think you can agree, He does this in spite of our sins.

I took a very quick search through Scripture to see how the words “pride” or “proud” have been used. Out of 85 occurrences of the English word in the ESV, I found, only 7 of those occurrences which were not used in a negative sense (Psalm 47:4; Isaiah 4:2; Amos 8:7 perhaps; 1 Corinthians 15:31; 2 Corinthians 7:4; Romans 15:17 and Philippians 2:16). While I was at it, I also did a quick search of the word “boast”. I found 47 occurrences of the English word in the ESV, with only 18 occurrences being positive (Psalm 34:2; Isaiah 61:6; Jeremiah 9:24 [1 Corinthian 1:31; 2 Corinthians 10:17]; 2 Corinthians 1:12, 14; 5:12; 9:2; 10:8, 13; 11:30; 12:5, 9; Galatians 6:4, 14; 2 Thessalonians 1:4; James 1:9). Interestingly, most of the positive uses of pride, proud or boast are in the writings of the apostle Paul. Generally, it seems that pride or boasting is good only when it is in relation to what God has done in and/or for an individual or group. Doing a very quick search, it seems that pride or boasting is never good when it refers to accomplishments or deeds done without reference to God’s work.

I think the verse that gets to the heart of the matter is 1 Corinthians 4:7. The apostle Paul asks, “What do you have that you did not receive?” Of course, the answer is “Nothing!” Paul continues, “If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” I think that’s the heart of the matter, when it comes to the United States. We Americans, generally, convey an attitude of “See what a great country we are? See what we’ve accomplished?” when, really, all we have and all we’ve accomplished is because of the grace of God.

If we’re viewed negatively by the rest of the world (and those who frequently travel abroad say that is increasingly the case), I think it’s probably because of this unintentional air of superiority that comes from not giving credit where credit is due: to God.

Thanks, again. And, I’ll be sure to check out your blog.