A Patriotic Act is Educating Yourself

by Hannah Harrison

Here are some BIPOC films you need to watch this Fourth of July to demonstrate your patriotism.

Growing up, the Fourth of July was usually filled with hot dogs, swimming, and fireworks that crackled into the nighttime. This year, the celebration will take on a different form. With the rising cases of COVID-19, it is for our personal safety and the safety of others that we take necessary precautions. This leaves some people wondering: how do I display my patriotism?

The question is understandable; this is a holiday that is ingrained in our national being and way of life. In addition, we honor the choices and strides that brought us to this moment. Plus, it’s fun! However, the reality is that we often choose fun over the conscious choice to honor the thing we say we are. Simply put: it is a celebration. There is nothing wrong with that, celebrations are wonderful. However, we cannot be upset about the cancellations of the celebration in the name of us being patriotic. Because patriotism means educating yourself.

As you know, we are in an election year. Throughout my life, each election year I have heard people say and repeat “Show up at the Polls!” when that is only a sliver of the work. That is not the patriotic act. The work begins before the polls. The work begins with research and education, by creating pros and cons lists of candidates and policies, by engaging in discussion. Patriotism is about being able to see the work that needs to be done in your country, and saying to yourself: “Okay, I like living here, but things can be better.”

It is not shameful, it is an act of care. An act of care for the people who surround you, and for those whose voices are often unheard. It is an act of care to educate yourself on the history of struggles and successes of the people who you occupy space with. It is patriotic to care for the people you live with.

Remember: We are all responsible.

The Black Lives Matter Movement has recently brought many to see the deep-rooted systemic and systematic issues that many people are unaware of. I have always considered the education I received to be raw and unflinching of the truth; that is not the reality. I am Latinx, which usually made me feel like I could understand the plight of everyone. That is not true. I am white Latinx, so my understanding of the world differs greatly from someone who identifies as black. The uncomfortable truth is, for many BIPOC, the Fourth of July puts a sour taste in their mouth because it was never a celebration that was meant to include them.

In our individualistic culture, we typically don’t see how our vote goes beyond affecting only ourselves. This is harmful thinking. We must realize that our vote affects everyone on a wider scale, not just ourselves. While I would like to think no one has intent to harm, often our lack of awareness of systemic issues affects our vote and our day-today living. And while it is important to engage in discussion to broaden your mindset, this does not mean you should run to your BIPOC friends for answers. Educate yourself so BIPOC don’t have to, because it is not their job.

Moving Forward

I’m unsure what my Fourth of July will look like. It won’t include swimming, and maybe the only fireworks I see will be the sparklers I purchase for myself. However, the holiday has been shaped by the education I have had in the past. And it will now be shaped by the educational journey I am starting for myself. We can all take the time to educate ourselves in the name of a patriotic act. Quite frankly, in the internet age, we have no excuse not to.

To start the ball rolling, here are BIPOC films that express the connection between being a minority and being an American. However, education does not start and stop by watching films. It is a processing of constantly learning, making mistakes, and trying again. In order to be patriotic, we must take accountability for our actions and how they affect the state of the country we are in. In order to be patriotic, we must watch films and consume literature by BIPOC people that critique the structure we have in place.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019). Director Joe Talbot

This film explores gentrification in the Bay Area, and how it disproportionately affects black Americans. It follows the friendship of Jimmie and Mont as Jimmie tries to reclaim the house his grandfather built.

Blackkklansman

Blackkklansman (2018). Director Spike Lee

Based on a true story, Blackkklansman, is about Colorado Spring’s first black police officer whose goal is to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. Spike Lee’s career has been dedicated to discussing and critiquing race relations and politics.

If Beale Street Could Talk

If Beale Street Could Talk (2019). Director Barry Jenkins

Based off the novel by James Baldwin, this film focuses on the couple Tish and Fonny. When Fonny is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit, and Tish is left pregnant, we begin to feel the weight of their love.

I Am Not Your Negro

I Am Not Your Negro (2016). Director Raoul Peck

Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, this documentary explores James Baldwin’s observations on racism in America using his unfinished manuscript.

The Joy Luck Club

The Joy Luck Club (1993). Director Wayne Wang

For some readers, the inclusion of this film on the list may illicit an eye-roll. A writer from The Slate said the movie can “be justly blamed for making the cultural and generational gap between immigrant parents and assimilated children a primary lens through which to view the Asian American experience.” This in turn creates a generational divide. Since I am not Asian, I am not in the position to comment on this critique. Nor will I ever say a person’s qualms with this film are unjustified.

However, the lack of Asian-American representation is quite astounding. This film should have been the kick in the pants Hollywood needed, but it was not. So this movie had to bear the brunt of representation for all Asian-Americans. However, I think the film does a strong job of depicting mother-daughter relationships and the relevancy of war trauma and how it is generational.

Reel Injun

Reel Injun (2009) Director Neil Diamond

Cree filmmaker, Neil Diamond (not the singer), documents the depiction of indigenous people in Hollywood movies. The racist depiction of indigenous people began with Wild West Shows like Buffalo Bill and has continued into this century. This documentary unveils the way these harmful depictions have affected indigenous people and will likely make you rethink your implicit biases.

Gook

Gook (2017). Director Justin Chon

Two Korean brothers befriend an eleven-year-old girl during the 1992 Los Angeles Riots. Set in South L.A., Gook creates a parallel between past and present.

Real Women Have Curves

Real Women Have Curves (2002) Director Patricia Cardoso

Based on the play by Josefina López, this movie has been described as the 2002, non-white version of Ladybird. It details the first-generation Chicana experience as well as cultural gender politics.


This Fourth of July, I want everyone to stay safe and have fun, but be aware that loving your country only goes so far in the process of bettering it. I cannot pretend to have all the answers when I am still learning. Seek out BIPOC voices that will make you put your perceptions in check. When you visit the polls this election, make decisions and choices that are informed. Remember, a patriotic act is an act of education.

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