Can I be proud of being American in spite of the way America treats us?
OPINION: An Iranian journalist challenged a Black American soccer player's allegiance to the country at the World Cup. I know how I would've answered.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
My ears perked up when I heard the Iranian journalist ask American soccer player Tyler Adams at the World Cup about the hypocrisy of being an American criticizing a human rights issue in another country. There are a lot of people in the world who see America as hypocritical and standing on a moral high ground that we have no right to stand on. I can respect that position. At the same time, I didn’t love the answer the young brother gave — basically, “there’s discrimination everywhere.” Part of me wished I had been there to answer that question. Here’s a vision of how that might have gone.
Iranian journalist, Press TV’s Milad Javanmardi (this is what he actually asked): “Are you OK to be representing your country that has so much discrimination against Black people in its own borders? We saw the Black Lives Matter movement over the past few years. Are you OK to be representing the U.S., meanwhile, there’s so much discrimination happening against Black people in America?”
Me (this is what I would have said): Thank you for the question. I completely understand the dilemma you’re outlining. If we look at the whole of American history, America has treated its Black citizens horribly. Racism still exists. Too many Black people are killed by police each day, and too many Black people are incarcerated by the state each year, and the racial wealth gap and the education gaps are massive by design. It often seems like there are two Americas: one for whites and one for Black folks. I get all that.
That said, there are some deeply American values that have allowed us to combat the oppression we have faced. The nation has let us have the tools to fight back. We’re in a country that’s all about freedom of speech. It’s a critical part of our Constitution and our nation’s spirit. We believe that people should be able to say what they want especially when they are being critical of their government, and that government should never infringe on their right to critique the nation because if it does, we’re on the road to a dictatorship. What freedom of speech means in action is protest. Getting out in the streets and agitating for what you want and the government allowing you to do this rather than attacking and imprisoning protesters and threatening others into silence. Our country is constantly filled with people chanting and holding signs and protesting about almost anything. And Black people have been at the forefront of fighting for our rights in America for centuries. We’ve protested in the streets, we’ve legislated, we’ve sued in the courts, we’ve run for elective office — we have used all of the American tools to fight back.
You bring up BLM, and it’s a shame that BLM has to exist, that we still have to tell people that Black lives matter. But what’s also interesting is that BLM exists. They’re constantly criticizing America and demanding the nation change in fundamental ways, and yet they exist. They haven’t been shut down and imprisoned, they’re here. BLM shows you what America is all about — we need a group to remind people that Black lives matter, but also we are able to have a group demand that America change.
America’s culture of free speech and open dialogue about ideas is crucial because it gives us the potential to change. We are a nation that’s constantly arguing and reconsidering and growing and changing, which gives me hope.
I can be critical of America and at the same time grateful for and proud of America. It’s deeply American to be criticizing America while enjoying it. We do that every day on talk radio or the internet or in diners and bars. We criticize America from our laws to our leaders. We do this in public. And that makes America what it is.
I’m proud of America’s courage to let people talk, and I’m proud of America’s willingness to consider changing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not forgetting that America has done horrible things on its own territory and on other people’s land. I’m often afraid to walk down the street in America and not because of criminals. I’m afraid of the cops. But I am proud of America’s willingness to have an open public dialogue about ideas and America guaranteeing the freedom to protest, and I am proud of America’s willingness to change. We have a long way to go, but I’m proud that we’re not where we used to be, and I’m confident that American-ness will help America grow better.
Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is also the author of seven books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U. Look out for his upcoming podcast Being Black In the 80s.
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