The Real Heroes

January 19, 2015

So I just got back from seeing the movie “Selma”. It was amazing. Brought me to tears a few times. Made me cringe a few times at the horrible racial violence. Powerful. Highly recommend it.

And it had better win Best Picture, damn it!

Not only because I like it when a movie I’ve seen wins Best Picture, but because it’s damn good. And also because I don’t want American Sniper to win.

Just to be clear, I have not seen American Sniper. I don’t particularly want to. I just read through a plot summary of it. Seems to be your run-of-the-mill soldier movie.

Soldiers are commonly referred to as heroes, and I suppose they are, or at least they’re really brave for putting themselves in that position. Not going to dispute that. And we have two holidays for them, Memorial Day for the dead ones and Veteran’s Day for the living ones. “Support Our Troops” bumper stickers and other such items are ubiquitous. After all, they’re the ones out there protecting our freedom, right?

Er, no, that one I will dispute. For one, their mere presence in many areas is pissing off the locals and thus encouraging support for the terrorists who might attack us and lead to more restrictions on our freedoms in the name of safety. Mostly it’s that the greatest threats to our freedom are internal.

On Memorial Day in 2012, I posted the following to Facebook:

I was talking with Kathleen Nicole O’Neal the other night about civil rights activists who did not live to see the changes they worked their whole lives for. Afterward it occurred to me it was a very appropriate Memorial Day conversation. We usually think of actual soldiers for this observance who gave their lives for a war (one they may or may not have wanted any part in, due to the draft board), and they certainly deserve credit. But there have been countless brave individuals working to change their own cultures for the better, to stamp out oppression, often also putting their lives on the line to do so. While soldiers were out defending the country from outside evils, the activists defend it from internal evils. Yet they’re rarely respectfully remembered (save a few popular ones who are household names). Hell, pop culture consistently paints activists of any kind as annoying and hateful. But let me tell you. Soldiers’ battles may be what freed us from the British and protected us from the Nazis, etc., but the work of Susan B Anthony and her lesser known sisters in arms are why I can vote.

Seriously, I think of that last line when I go vote. If it were only one hundred years ago right now, I would not have had the right to vote. The 19th Amendment would still have been five years away. Merely 50 years ago, in certain parts of the country, if I were also black, I’d meet ridiculous obstacles in trying to vote even though I would have technically had the right. Even today, little rules here and there keep getting passed to restrict voting, such as Voter ID Laws, whose sole purpose seems to be to disenfranchise the poor, young, and/or non-white.

And that’s just voting. Not to mention the myriad of other rights violations, whether racially based or otherwise bigoted or even just across-the-board, at the hands of the country that our brave soldiers are out there supposedly defending.

Yet the soldiers are consistently painted as being the most patriotic of patriots while the activists working to protect our freedoms and fight bigotry on our own soil are consistently painted as anti-patriotic, as trying to cause trouble or ruin our moral American fabric or something.

That’s bullshit. Martin Luther King Jr is one of the greatest American patriots of all time. His work and that of his comrades made American life better, for black Americans directly and for all others indirectly. The least patriotic American is the one who insists everything is fine, that those agitators saying otherwise need to be silenced, that we need to respect authority at all times. That there is someone who isn’t going to make things any better for anyone, who isn’t interested in improving our country at all.

You know, sometimes the house you love needs its floors swept, its siding redone, its roof retiled, its walls repainted. That doesn’t mean you dislike the house. It means you’re taking care of it so it can remain a suitable place to live.

While being fine with the USA being a bigoted shithole does not at all a patriot make! It’s those making change to enfranchise more people and end discrimination who want to make the home they love a great home for everyone else who lives in it as well.

Not to say this means the soldiers are unpatriotic necessarily. After all, it’s also part of loving your home if some jerks are outside hurling bricks through the windows to go out and stop them. It’s just that it does not end there. Not at all.

In fact, when we bestow the title of hero on soldiers and withhold it from the internal activists and change-makers, we hold up violence and death as the ideal. True, many soldiers never do actually kill anybody, but they are trained to and encouraged to. While MLK’s whole thing was non-violence.

So that’s why I want to see Selma win Best Picture over American Sniper. The latter is about a man whose heroism involves having killed dozens of people. The former is about a man who simply tried to cross a bridge with his fellow freedom activists only to get their skulls busted by cops who hated them for daring to exist. And that man most definitely did a hell of a lot more for this country.

Even if, if Ferguson is any indication, racial justice still has a long way to go.

So it’s a great thing that, alongside the two holidays for soldiers, Dr. King gets one all to himself. But then again, so does Christopher Columbus. 🙄