Whenever I see a car or house that’s flying an American flag, I become wary. To me, displaying the flag is indicative of a type of chauvinism that ignores the bigotry, prejudice and violence of American history- after all, if you’re aware of how America has treated ethnic and religious minorities and women, then how could you proudly display the flag? At worst, the person flying it is not simply ignorant of the history, but embraces it. So I’ve avoided the flag and those who display it.
I’ve begun to rethink that approach though. There are alot of great things in American history too, and while they don’t outweigh the bad, they are worth recognizing. There have been incredible people, inventions and movements that have genuinely made life better not just for Americans, but for all people.
Most importantly though, the idea of the United States is something worth celebrating. Again, the nation hasn’t come close to living up to those ideas, and the men who wrote them in our founding documents held slaves and denied the vote to women and the poor. But the goal of equality for all people is a worthy one, and the flag is supposed to represent that.
So why should I allow bigots and hateful people to co-opt a symbol that’s supposed to mean the exact opposite of their beliefs? I’m an American too, and I believe in all of the pie-in-the-sky ideals that America is supposed to stand for. It’s not so much that I want to feel pride in the nation state (that’s a topic for another essay), but I want to believe in a symbol of equality and justice.
I’m not at the point where I’m ready to clothe myself with the flag, but I do want to reorient my relationship to the flag. I’m also not ready to let my guard down around flag wavers yet, but I suppose if I become one of them, then I’d have to reevaluate that stance too.