Flying the Flag in the Face of Patriotism

Artwork by Kayleigh De Sousa

It’s not often a naked man trying to windmill his penis in front of a PC World while holding an England flag inspires me to write, but life is something that constantly surprises us.

The global dynamics over the last few months have led me to question what patriotism actually means, how it functions and whether it’s a necessary factor in a modern society that prides itself on its international diversity. From the fallout of the Euros to the unsung history of Canada’s residential schools, the essence of who we’re proud to be is clearly highlighted as a landscape that’s constantly changing. By definition, the political ideology of patriotism is considered “the feeling of love, devotion, and sense of attachment to a homeland or the country and alliance with other citizens who share the same sentiment to create a feeling of oneness among the people”. Perhaps, this is a definition that now needs to be tweaked.

Dependent on where we are, what we do, what we look like and who we’re genetically linked to, patriotism shapeshifts into different forms of angst or expression. From a relatively sheltered upbringing in rural England, I’ve had a distinctly curtailed view of what patriotism might mean in the wider world. Aside from the odd gruelling country fair with dangerously unhinged carnival rides and old Morris dancers, being “proud to be British” has historically been painted in a negative light, making anyone who says it with their chest a certain type of person. Even geographically, Scotland and Wales take pride in their own nations, but are reluctant to be lumped in with the English patriots that define themselves as British. When I think of what it means to be British, the identity often centres around a gloriously diverse cross-section of citizens, working to respect and understand each other’s heritage and differences and live as harmoniously as possible. In reality, the people that shout the loudest for the love of their country do so with malicious intent, creating division and hatred for an illogical idea of what being British is. It’s true that we are the kings of appropriating culture – perhaps if we didn’t look down on the likes of Morris dancers, we may not be as tempted to take what isn’t rightfully ours. However, as the likes of England’s football fans have shown this summer, we’re a long way from taking any accountability.

This kind of inward national branding extends itself further than the classist thinking and perceptions of the UK. I’ve never quite wrapped my head around the dogged loyalty the US has to its name, or fixation on national anthems, flags and war veterans (far too many of which are left roadside without a dime to their name). Another fantastic example of global identities selflessly giving to make a better united whole, the US is so entrenched in one particular way of being American, it arguably discredits many of its citizens – not to mention that it’s a pride that takes place on stolen land. Perhaps the US is a starting point for new meanings of Patriotism. Those that have been disenfranchised and discarded along the way may cling to a national or cultural identity as a sense of pride, self-discovery and belonging. Instead of trampling over or hiding the richness of their history, geographical titans should be working to rectify their wrongs and properly treasure the backgrounds of those that actually make their country great. We have ‘United’ in our name for a reason.

The light at the end of the tunnel is likely to be us – just like many other parts of life we’re expected to magically fix. Thanks to the likes of viral TikToks, kids are sharing their traditions, hidden cultural heritage and (most importantly) pride in history that has been long overlooked. Even as an onlooker, I’m learning that often a national identity is both beautiful and fragile, dependent on a dictatorial or democratic regime. We vote to strip away our freedom of movement while many others take solace in migration becoming a part of who they are. Like the stolen artifacts that exhibit in many national museums across the country, this new wave of patriotism is something to be preserved, nurtured, cared for. Those of us that are peacefully able to disassociate from a national stereotype need to step outside our traditionally boxed definition of a ‘national patriot’ – myself included.

Am I the most informed about the different facets national identity takes? No. Should I be using my voice to break down an outdated connection to the meaning of patriotism? Absolutely. As our Home Secretary prepares to board more planes of deportees, the notion of being illegal or alien anywhere doesn’t represent the humanitarian values so many of us pride ourselves on. There’s no question that we have an extremely strange relationship with patriotism. Our identity politics runs away with itself, the wrong kinds of media moguls perpetuating stereotypical classist thinking that shows no mercy of understanding. Instead of conceding to our subconscious judgement, we should reframe and re-discover the unwavering positivity patriotism can bring to many outside of our own experiences. You never know – we might actually be better off for it.

Article by Jasmine Valentine