A reignited theme in American politics today seems to be that of pride: pride in where one hails from, pride in what ethnic or religious group they belong to, pride in what color their skin is. Next to religious fundamentalism, nationalism and race pride have always been mankind’s most irrational source of self-security, a way to literally make one feel better about themselves in a deceptive way. A common maxim is that if one has to keep telling themselves or everyone around them how happy, proud, or amazing they are, then chances are they probably aren’t any of those things. One hears it everywhere: Latino pride, Asian pride, White pride, the worst and most dangerously ubiquitous being “American pride” or American “exceptionalism.”
On the outset, such notions of pride might seem benign and, on certain occasions, even necessary in empowering the ostracized and socially alienated. But, ultimately, even in cases like what we have in America today, in which people of color are finally getting their voices heard in oppressive power structures, this empowerment could all be done without all the “pride” stuff. It’s one thing to, for instance, promote Asian-Americans to accept and find human worth in themselves, to not feel insecure about their masculinity or femininity in spite of how they’re caricatured in Hollywood or T.V. It’s quite another to proclaim that Asian-Americans are inherently harder working in their self-preservation than other minority groups.
Furthermore, why should I feel pride about being born into something? I can’t help it if I was born Chinese, or Irish, or Black. It’s akin to the “gym participation” medals handed out to kids at my old elementary school. We didn’t “earn” anything to be worthy of pride. This argument is, of course, not original. But like many lies we like to tell ourselves, identity pride is something that hasn’t seemed to have vanished despite our growing awareness and the interconnectedness of the world around us. The problem of this provincialist mentality goes far beyond the silly insecure cheerleading of the self.
I don’t think I would be conjecturing too obtusely when I say that nationalism and race pride has probably played a major role in almost every significant human injustice in regards to civilizations–from imperialist conquests to genocide to the oppression of a class. Why? Well, because, by its very definition, nationalism and race pride promotes human detachment. It makes one consider his/her own upbringing as unique when it is not, and refuses to allow one to enter the shoes of someone vastly different in culture and upbringing then their own.
The most dire consequences of this line of thinking can be best exemplified by America’s participation in the Cold War. Though many Americans will agree that many of our actions in the Cold War were indeed a “mistake” (from our genocidal bombings raids in Southeast Asia to our sponsoring of terrorist death squads in South America), they’re not willing to concede that it was a crime against humanity of gargantuan proportions. When one brings up the inescapable facts that America had supported right-wing fascist regimes that slaughtered helpless villagers–down from Pinochet in Chile, D’Aubuisson in El Salvador, to the Contras in Nicaragua and Suharto in Indonesia–the response usually tends to be that those deaths were collateral damage. We didn’t mean to kill them. We were just trying to stop the barbarous, cancerous spread of Communism–which, in the case of Chile and Nicaragua, happened to be left-wing socialist regimes that tried to, for example, install milk programs for children and create a more participatory election system. But nevermind that, they’re communist so all that is bullshit.
What’s this have to do with nationalism? Or in this specific case, American nationalism? Everything. Even on a citizenship level, we think of ourselves as noble warriors for “freedom” (or to put it more accurately, brave heroic consumers with rights). And it might indeed be the case that we certainly don’t mean any harm. But when hundreds of thousands of tortured, raped, and murdered men, women, and children are labeled as “collateral damage” in pursuit of a cause that didn’t seem to serve any humane purpose in the first place other than maintaining an economic sphere of influence, how can that be justified? How is that not imperialism in its most traditional pure form? We now begin to see the disturbing correlation between tribalistic pride and tribalistic conquest.
A mentor of mine once told me that you should live your life in a way in which if everyone else lived like you, the world would be ok. Would the world be ok if everyone thought that where they come from, what group they were born into, just somehow made them prophetically superior? We know what world that would look like and it’s the one we live in now.