I was once told to "quit yer bitchin' or get out of here" by a person obviously offended by my criticisms about America. You see, I apparently didn't get the memo that we are now a totalitarian state and that any and all dissent is an expression of anti-patriotism and should warrant immediate deportation. I suppose I was mistakenly inspired by people like Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, MLK JR., and Rosa Parks (just to name a few) who all criticized America because they weren't satisfied with the state of things around them. I naively believed that freedom of speech was especially helpful for people with unpopular opinions, not self-congratulatory grandstanders who want a nation full of mindless sheep.
The truth is, I really do like America. I'm proud of the aforementioned people. I'm proud of Hemingway and Bukowski and George Carlin and Buck Owens and Lawrence Krauss and Wendy Davis and, my goodness, the list is truly endless. I like the story of Baseball and jazz music and the sounds of New Orleans. I like the Golden Gate bridge and the Navy Pier and all the corn rows in Iowa. I like Brooklyn and Fargo and Club Congress in Tuscon. I've been all through the deserts and the cities and the Pacific Northwest. One time a guy in a small apartment in Cambridge gave me a Richard Feynman book that changed my life. Traveling through America is what opened my eyes to the fallacy and lunacy of hatred and bigotry. I remember being 19 and going to an "art show" in the Castro district of San Francisco and realizing, much too late, that it was an explicit gay art show. I had a blast. I have fond memories of tubing on the lake with my parents in Alabama. First kisses. First poetry books. Seeing Wilco live at the Alabama Theater the night they won two Grammys. Seeing Ryan Adams at the Ryman and The Cure in Atlanta. I have a lot of uniquely American experiences that I am thankful for.
But I also have a lot of tension about America. I cannot pretend that we are not a country founded on mass genocide and slavery. I cannot pretend that the wounds of segregation and the lack of black civil rights was long ago enough for us to have healed as a nation. I cannot pretend that the suppression of women is not still happening here. I cannot pretend that our healthcare is as good as other developed countries. I cannot pretend that we are not actively discriminating against our gay friends and family members by denying them the right to marry. I cannot pretend that we are not in the lowest percentile of scientific literacy amongst developed countries. I cannot pretend we do not openly espouse a culture of ridiculous gun violence. I cannot pretend that our religious traditions are not harming progress. I cannot pretend that racism is over or that our children are getting the best education possible.
And for these reasons I awkwardly make my way through days like today with small jabs and jokes. I'm not trying to shit on your BBQ our pour out your bud light. Honestly, I'm trying to do what I think my heroes would have done. I don't think they would have been content to sit around congratulating themselves. They would have looked around and said, we have more work to do. It's interesting that the people who wanted to end slavery or bans on interracial marriage or who wanted women to vote and gays to marry...these people were criticized as un-American. I'm thankful they weren't bullied when people told them to quit their bitching or leave. Um, no thanks. I'm not going anywhere. I'm drinking a Mexican beer right now and soon I'll go into my song cave and listen to Icelandic doom metal. Because isn't that really what makes the freedom thing so great?
So now what? Toby Keith is going to come kick my ass? I'll be waiting with a Dos Equis.