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Heritage Not Great
...in which Ashley surveys Caucasia
One thing the Europeans visiting America always mention is the flags. American flags on flip flops and fanny packs. Flags on bumpers and mudflaps, on windshields and trunk lids, flapping violently from Dodge Rams and Mini Coopers. Fields of twenty-story flags over used car lots, little tiny toothpick flag in your meatball sub. Flags on doormats as you enter, flags on the seat when you flush. Have the Americans become so forgetful, the Euro traveler wonders, that they need constant reminders of what country they live in?
Our German friends can find this especially troubling, given their checkered history with the proliferation of flags and those eager to salute them. Based on my informal poll (I asked my wife), post-war Germans remain squeamish concerning open expressions of national pride. I don’t mean open Nazism, mind you – German law forbids the brandishing of swastikas. We’re talking about flying the plain old schwarz, rot, und gold. We Americans are accustomed to swearing blood oaths to defend Old Gorey from the mongrel hordes every morning in school, or holding our Solo cups to our hearts when Charlie Daniels hog-calls the national anthem at the AT&T Vick’s VapoRub Stadium, but to most Germans, these outcries of nationalism can seem a little too Hitler-iffic for comfort.
In Deutschland, flying the German flag is considered…well, a red flag. The assumption is that flag flyers are likely Pure Germans, the kind of paleface reactionaries who denounce foreign refugees, guest workers, and Torah devotees as lacking in sufficient Sauerkraut consumption to qualify as true nationals. The flag flyers are the ones preoccupied with “bloodlines,” the ones squawking about “losing our national identity” when they hear a Tarkan single playing in H&M. The flag flyers weep for the lost glory days of the Fatherland, before school lunch menus featured Falafel. For these proto-fascists, the flag is a declaration of, if not war, then certainly assholish intent. A German flag on their doormat means, “You must be THIS Aryan to enter.”
(The wife reminds me that the exception is Fußball season, where flag flying is rampant and all enemies of Deutschland must be destroyed on the field of battle, regardless of their pigment or traditional cuisine.)
In short, most Germans find that nationalism smells a lot like fascism. And you would think we Americans would have reached the same conclusion by now. After all, key Republican Congressmen have lately kicked the symbolism up a notch by replacing the traditional American flag pins on their lapels with miniature AR-15 replicas. I’m thinking the message there is no longer about national unity. Whatever the Republicans are pledging allegiance to these days, it certainly appears to be something jackbooted.
What we do know is that, as with the flag freaks of Deutschland, the main thrust of the Republican grievance, the butthurt which keeps the gun sales brisk, is that old saw about “losing our identity.” The nation’s heritage is falling victim to the whims of immigrants and the cultural elite, bent on rebooting Ant Man as a transgender Mexican, putting Huey Newton on the twenty dollar bill, and mounting high school productions of Yentl. Defending the national heritage means, of course, the WASP version, with its rich history of sanctified khakis, Pottery Barn furniture, and festive holiday napalm. For these racist Americans, the “white people” alleged to rule the world are the variation the Founding Fathers whipped up in the lab 250 years ago.
German white nationalism boasts of a deeper history. But what’s so weird about the Nazi-style fixation on “national identity” is that it’s not an embrace of Germany’s Frankish roots or even the glories of the Holy Roman Empire, but some kind of bizarre Viking fetish, a romanticization of Norse Mythology and Scandinavian death metal. The right-wing extremists going on about “true Germans” are a bunch of Asgardian wannabes, writing operas about Odin and proclaiming the coming of Ragnarok. Cultural appropriation if I ever saw it. Meanwhile, you can be sure that the militant American crackers spouting off about what it means to be a True Patriot are not talking about the nation’s Seminole ancestry.
It's not the racism that confuses me – as a native South Carolinian, I navigated undiluted, first-class, white-power racism long before my first desegregated school bus ride (ironically, we pink hoodlums preferred to sit in the back). What confuses me is the bloodline/heritage/ancestry trip. Personally, I’ve never had the slightest interest in my racial background, my forebearer’s immigration records, or my family tree. I am genetically predisposed to not give a shit about my genetics. The Holt genealogy, as it has been presented to me, is a long line of dirt-farming hill people, who were, according to historical records, the dullest bunch of tater-mashin’ churchgoers who ever birthed kinfolk.
Unlike others who have uncovered genetic connections to French nobles, famous werewolves, or Nefertiti, my brief peeks into my racial and cultural breeding have revealed a lot of cowtown nobodies. The most interesting character in the Holt bloodline was a Confederate colonel who was reportedly fragged by his own company. Pretty much my sentiments concerning the Holts. So what’s this grand ethnic identity I’m supposed to be defending from matzoh balls and hip-hop? A family line of beer-funneling Waffle House patrons with black lung and Barcalounger bedsores? What’s this cultural heritage of obvious superiority, my father’s Junior Samples LPs?
And what of these flags? The ubiquitous stars and stripes on every beer koozie and beach towel have given way to the Gadsen flag, the Thin Blue Line flag, the Dukes of Hazard logo flag, and the endless variations of Pride Flags, color-coded to your exact preference in underwear and house music. How many subdivisions of flags do we need before we’ve narrowed our tribal affiliations down to you, Larry, and the ladies in the book club (except Edna)? That little militia may agree on favorite flag colors, but I don’t foresee them overthrowing the government.
Feeling foreign within a community of flags, marches, hymns, and pledges to one’s home country is the best preparation for life as an expat. And I’ve been relieved to discover that stereotypical Germanism is a cultural condition rather than an ethnic one, a regionally-specific response to Germany’s decidedly anti-Nazi codes of conduct, including laws and customs related to the flying of flags. Ironically, though it’s rare to see one flying freely, the German flag enjoys legal protection from burning, soiling, or ass-wiping (to protest displeasure with the train schedules and other government tyranny). But better still, these protections have been extended to flags of all nations, unifying Germany’s citizens in their respective heritage hangups, whether they be Pakistani, Sudanese, or one-third Moroccan on their second-cousin’s side.
And that’s the other thing. How do these purebred nationals reconcile their Master Race declarations while simultaneously boasting of multi-immigrant bloodlines? The pinkies brag about being one-quarter Irish and four-sixteenths Navajo while proclaiming the default superiority of their squeaky-clean whiteness.
I remember falling into this predictable line of chatter at a party with my friends when we were teenagers. The white folks among us compared notes about our respective national ancestries.
“I’m half-English and half-Spanish on my father’s side.”
“My ancestors came from Holland, Austria, and Argentina.”
“I’m two-thirds Dane, but my second cousins are Russian Orthodox.”
Rodney, the only non-cracker in the room, delivered his response in his best Barry White bass.
“Imma Black Man!”
(And let’s not forget Ashley’s website, jam-packed with portraits and other drawings, his highly-affordable prints and books currently available, his eagerness for your portrait commission, and his contact email, email@example.com, where he longs to hear from you.)