I recited the pledge of allegiance every day in my childhood. These words are ingrained in the minds of youth starting in kindergarten, with students reciting it every morning at schools across the country.
To many, this seems routine. Why would we not say it? America is a great country, and we should honor that. We should live up to American values every day, and by saying the pledge of allegiance, we are enforcing this notion.
But what truly is the motive behind this routine?
Are we instilling the idea in children that America is the greatest country in the world? Because that is absolutely not the case. American ideals are clouded by the whitewashing of our history.
The Declaration of Independence was an amazing document that granted freedom and liberty — but only to white men. The following was written by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” This was beautiful and monumental, but he only intended this statement for white men. In his book titled “Notes on the State of Virginia,” Jefferson also said that “the blacks … are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.”
This is just one example of the contradiction between the rights of blacks and whites during the foundings of America. People often hold onto our history as sacred and something to be proud of. But if black history was taught in schools, people would certainly not feel proud of those parts of this nation’s past.
The two largest instances of genocide known to man are the Holocaust and the transatlantic slave trade. Africans were forcibly taken out of their home countries as part of a business transaction and were forced to work for the colonists and build America. When slaves were brought to the United States from Africa, millions of lives were lost. Until I came to college, I did not truly grasp the concept that America was founded upon the exploitation of Africans.
When we say the pledge of allegiance, we are defending our country against its unwanted past. According to sociologist Shiri Noy, author of “Citizenship, Nationalism and Human Rights,” there is a difference between patriotism and nationalism. Patriotism is defined by Noy as individuals having pride in their country’s achievements and culture. On the other hand, nationalism is when individuals identify with a country that they believe is superior to others.
According to Noy, patriotism generally has a positive association and nationalism has a negative one. I believe that most people are innocent patriots. They are proud of America because on the surface, American rhetoric is centered around the notions of freedom, justice for all, the American dream and hard work — all of which are incredible ideas for a country to hold its citizens to.
The problem is that from a historical perspective, institutional racism creates a cycle of inequality that manifests itself into all facets of life for non-white citizens. Inequality in education and disparities in mental and physical health make the “American dream” not applicable to people who are victims of institutional racism and poverty.
This is why our athletes kneel. They don’t take a knee during the national anthem to dishonor those who fight for our country — they take a knee to acknowledge that their country has problems. And while these problems are ongoing, they have no desire to sing about how much they love the country.
Most people are patriotic about America. This is why the definition of patriotism should include social change. If you care about your country so much, you should want to make it better. Part of that is understanding oppression.
When the pledge of allegiance is required to be said by students at school, it tells them that this country has done no wrong — which is a dangerous way to think. The pledge is an act of patriotism that contributes to the ignorance of our country’s history.
Historically, there is yet to be “liberty and justice for all,” but these words can hopefully encourage young minds to be the future change-makers of social justice we need to pave the way. What patriotism can do now is take on new forms and be expressed as a desire to create social change. But for this shift to occur, U.S. history education reform must take place, so students are aware of the roots of the pledge to begin with. After learning that, younger generations can decide how they will express their commitment to American ideals.