Pride: It is a funny word, and one that can often keep us tethered to a vicious and durable lie. And the idea of — and demand for — pride in this country has for too long served as a weapon, an illusion to which we can fly our flags and puff out our chest as citizens standing atop the shiny city on the hill.
Pride keeps us dancing a jig, to demonstrate our unbending commitment to its rule. Question whether America was ever not-great, and find yourself on the receiving end of cascading Twitter vitriol — or worse. Bend the knee in protest, and they will take a pound of flesh.
The problem with pride is this: A certain brand of white man’s pride has been substituted for actual pride, and it requires the complete destruction of the truth in order to endure — along with the diminishment of Black identity, which may very well be by design.
In my life as an activist artist, I’ve invested my time in the investigation of this collective psychopathy. I learned that, if left unchecked, it could burn down society at a breakneck pace — metastasizing through the entire body of a country in a matter of just a few years.
As we fight the plague of Covid-19, the plague of violence and white supremacy has raged out of control. Groups like the Proud Boys, founded by Gavin McInnes and now led by more of his ilk, which espouse so-called Western chauvinism, deny the existence of racism and encourage members to renounce supposed “white guilt” and engage in violence, are only further emboldened by a president who told them, on the debate stage in front of millions of Americans, to “stand back and stand by.”
Others, like the Michigan militia group, the Wolverine Watchmen, can apparently be activated into action when their enraged commander in chief tweets “LIBERATE MICHIGAN”: The FBI said this week that it had foiled a plot by a gaggle of armed men — at least one of whom displayed Confederate flags on his property and several of whom have apparent ties to the far-right ”boogaloo” movement dedicated to fomenting a racial civil war — to kidnap and possibly execute Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, in retaliation for instituting a state-wide mask mandate and other restrictions to combat Covid-19.
But I am not at all surprised by such brazen attempts at terrorizing Americans; I have grown to know white supremacists groups well. My partner, Christopher Renz, and I engaged in exhaustive research to write the Confederate militia characters for our film “Antebellum.” And, what we learned is that at their core is a pernicious strain of “white pride” that can only exist with Black equality as the primary casualty.
Their insistence on this hateful pride, I suspect, is an elaborate ruse to keep from having to confront their deep feeling of moral inferiority — but that would be for a clinical psychologist to diagnose and I am simply a writer, a filmmaker and a very concerned citizen.
I have learned from making art about human frailty that white pride, and our acceptance of even mild versions of it as generalized pride in our country, is the greatest enemy of our ability as a nation to survive this latest inflection point in America’s democratic experiment.
White people are not alone with conflating national pride with white pride; the patriarchy has done quite a number on us as Black people as well, teaching us to hate ourselves, to admonish one another, to be terrified by the scarcity of scraps to be divided among the blessed few.
We know this country was built on the backs of our ancestor’s stolen bodies and forced labor, but somewhere along the line, we buried this truth so deep within our souls that we barely noticed the vestiges of America’s original sin in the assigned surnames branded on our persons, or as we gleefully devoured hotdogs while watching a Redskins game, or when we dropped our Black children off at schools named for white supremacists. We looked away from that truth when we gave our money to media companies that made cartoonish sketches of us for our entertainment, as if our existence is only as expansive as white people can see.
They marvel at our audacity to survive, and think that living in our struggle — that our stubborn resilience — should be a great source of pride, instead of seeing our pride in our enduring beauty in the face of such ugliness, or in our royally dignified refusal to accept the meager circumstance of fraudulent equality.
To be prideful is to be human; it gives weight and contour to our identity, animating life’s meaning when so often it can prove challenging to find any. But pride can also be a fool’s gold that keeps us panning for its worthless payoff.
I too have great pride — pride in my Blackness, pride in my otherness, and enough pride to do everything humanly possible to replace the illusion of America’s greatness with that of something real and tangible for all. That is a pride that, if we’re lucky, may bear fruit because the alternative is as frightening as it is untenable — as maintaining the current version of pride will surely eat us all alive, from sea to shining sea.