Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Frederick Douglass: Patriot

"....he is a lover of his country who rebukes and does not excuse its sins."

Frederick Douglass was many things during his life: runaway slave, famed orator, adviser to presidents but it was after visiting his house today that I learned that Frederick Douglass was a great patriot and one of our greatest Americans.

It's generally accepted that a patriot is someone who loves their country and (in our case) sees the world through red, white and blue colored glasses. In post 9/11 America, we consistently hear that there are people in this world who not only hate America, but also the lives we lead as Americans. The result of this shift in our culture is the development of a bravado that dictates that if you speak out against or criticize America in anyway, you are not a patriot.

Today, I learned the true definition of patriotism and it doesn't look much like the patriotism defined above.

Today, Frederick Douglass taught me that a patriot is not just someone who loves his or her country but someone who can look at what their country is and what their country does and know that it can be better. Douglass lived in a country that celebrated freedom and liberty while keeping slaves in bondage and denying rights to many different types of citizen. He not only recognized this hypocrisy but he also let people know about it through his writings and speeches, specifically the beautiful, scathing and ultimately truthful "rebuke" of our Independence Day in his 1852 speech, What to an American Slave is the Fourth of July? This doesn't mean that he hated America, it just means that he cared about the country and its people. This idea of "tough love" translates to many relationships in life including parent to child and teacher to student. Multiple times during my three years in the classroom I have pushed students to be better because I've seen the potential in them; their response is usually questioning why it is that I hate them. Much like Douglass and 19th century America, I just want them to live up to the high standards that have been set for them.

Sadly Douglass was not alive for Jim Crow in the 20th century but while he was here, he gave America exactly what the country needed and what each of us needs at different times in our lives: someone to get in our ear, tell us we're acting like fools and to cut the crap. Whether it was the abolition of slavery, or the rights of women and free blacks, Frederick Douglass pushed America to live up to the lofty standards set by our founding fathers and by doing so he helped America become a better place.

Thank you Mr. Douglass, for not only changing America but also for teaching me how to truly love my country.

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