What is patriotism? How do we differentiate patriotism, nationalism, and citizenship? What are the duties of a patriot? Are we most patriotic when our views and values align with those in power? Or, can we feel patriotic through the act of protest? Can we be patriotic if the country is not upholding its values? Can supporting the country be unpatriotic?
On Thursday evening, students engaged these questions, and others, during a Bowdoin Student Government sponsored event, Defining Patriotism, Kneeling During the Anthem: A Community Conversation. BSG designated the discussion as an opportunity to “complicate, challenge, and ultimately understand each other’s perspective on patriotism” and to consider patriotism in relation to the movement of kneeling before the American flag during the national anthem, as popularized by NFL player Colin Kaepernick.
The event was the brainchild of Salim Salim ’20, BSG’s vice president for student affairs. Salim began the discussion by citing his personal stake in the matter as a naturalized Iraqi immigrant living in America. “I have a lot of questions,” Salim told the audience. Later asked about his motivations for planning this discussion, Salim said that the subject of patriotism is complicated for him. “I’m very torn about whether or not I am patriotic,” he said. This community discussion was, in part, he said an effort to wrestle with these questions with the student body.
The conversation moved in several directions. One student defined patriotism as a love of country while accepting the country’s flaws. Another student proposed that patriotism means advocating for those whom the flaws effect. Students pushed the idea of what it means to be an American: is it sharing values, or having legal status? Some contended that patriotism is unifying; others, that it is exclusionary.
Students agreed that patriotism necessitates an effort to make the country the best it can be.
Disagreements arose, though, on how to do so. Is Colin Kaepernick’s protest patriotism, or its opposite? Most students present argued for the former. Kaepernick is exercising his right to free expression, some noted. Yet the public has tried to misconstrue his actions. “NFL Sunday is not when people want to hear about Black Lives Matter,” one student proposed. “People say this is about disrespecting soldiers, but that’s not what it’s actually about.”
At the end of the discussion, Salim said he hoped that ideas that were shared “were able to impact or challenge someone else’s perspective. They definitely challenged mine.”