I’m working on a project, and that project is me. I’m working on reclaiming the American flag.
It isn’t easy, though. My family, to my recollection, never hung the flag outside the house. And there was never one outside of my grandmother’s house either.
Though I don’t recall ever discussing it with my parents when I grew up, I got the clear message from my father that the overt signs of patriotism were not his thing. I’m convinced that it was a function of bigotry he experienced in the military in 1945 and 1946 and dealing with racism subsequently.
By the time I was in high school, there was an “America, love it or leave it” mentality, which I associated with literal flag waving.
The BCHS incident
When I was in eleventh grade, there was about a week when we didn’t have the Pledge of Allegiance over the loudspeaker. So one day, my homeroom teacher, Harvey, decided our class should do so. I refused to stand. That “liberty and justice for all” stuff, I felt, was a lie. The face of the homeroom teacher grew increasingly red as he repeated the request, and I remained seated.
During the first period, trigonometry, this burly adult sat a couple of seats behind me. I figured he was evaluating the newish math teacher. In fact, it was the new principal, Dr. K.
I met with him and my father, who he had called, either during lunch or after school. Dr. K asked if I were an adherent of the Jehovah’s Witnesses since the Supreme Court ruled in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette that “expelling a student who doesn’t recite the Pledge of Allegiance … violates the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of speech and religion.” That ruling, coincidentally, was eighty years ago on this very date. (It reversed a SCOTUS ruling in Minersville School District v. Gobitis only three years earlier.)
No, I said. We worked out a compromise that I would stand for the Pledge but didn’t have to say it. Oddly, in twelfth grade, as president of the student, I recited it over the loudspeaker. By then, I had decided the words were aspirational rather than factual.
I like red, white, and blue.
I should be clear that I’ve always liked the actual flag. They were going to add a star and stripe for every state that joined the union. The fact that they pivoted back to thirteen stripes, I thought, was very clever.
I’ve been to Arlington National Cemetery and the military cemetery in North Carolina where my parents are buried, and I find the rows of flags quite moving.
SCOTUS has recognized flag burning as protected speech. While I agree with the concept philosophically, it bothers me when I see it, and I would not do so myself.
Indeed, I’m more aware of 4 U.S. Code § 8 – Respect for flag than most people who claim to revere it, for instance:
d) The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. (i) The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. I came across this pin of a flag with a cross on it; this Christo-Americanism I found highly unsettling.
And the literal embrace of the flag by djt I find utterly grotesque. (Does the fact that his birthday is June 14 somehow create a rationale in his mind?)
When the US was preparing to go to war in Iraq, and I actively opposed it in the six months before I began, the peaceniks were dubbed not “real” lovers of their country.
Still, if I Google “liberals reclaiming the flag” I find articles like this from USA Today (2018) and this from Politico (2020) and this from the New York Times (2022). I agree with most of the sentiments contained therein.
Maybe this would work for me. From NPR: “Many have chosen to fly the flag next to other symbols to give it more personal context. For some, that means raising the Stars and Stripes along with a ‘Make American Great Again’ banner. For others, the American flag is flying alongside a gay pride banner or Black Lives Matter sign.” OK, not the MAGA sign, but…