Symbols have a great deal of power throughout human history. Great civilizations have erected monuments to a variety of things. Heroic figures of leadership and conquest, great triumphs on the battlefield, tributes to Gods, monuments to science and engineering achievement, so on and so forth. One of those consistent symbols is a flag and color scheme. Here in America, there is nothing we love more than putting the stars and stripes on anything we can. We fly it on buildings, we wear it on uniforms, we even put on the smallest of string bikinis. People like to believe that others see a flag the same way that they do, unfortunately this is not true.
Think of a flag the same way you do your favorite pro sports team. I’ve been a Los Angeles Lakers fan my entire life. When I see Purple and Gold, I get a wonderful feeling inside representing greatness and success, Showtime and Shaq. When I see a parquet floor and Green and White uniforms…. I see the enemy. Respect, yes, but far from the same feelings fill my soul. The same thing can be said for a Flag. The stars and stripes of the American flag are taught to us to represent Freedom, Justice, Equality, Opportunity, a beacon of democracy and hope for everyone in the world. My question is, are we willing to exercise empathy when it comes to the symbols we love? Are we courageous enough to see that which we love in the spotlight of honesty?
Colin Kaepernick took at knee during the national anthem last year before football games. Keep in mind it took 2 weeks before a reporter noticed. He didn’t make a twitter announcement prior, he simply exercised his rights as an American. Much has been said about him so I don’t want to get sidetracked, but his basic point was the SYMBOL that is the America we are all told we live in, is failing to live up to it’s promises for many persons who live under it’s flag. The nation in which allows some of its citizens to be stopped and frisked, while others can kill 9 people and go to Burger King before they go to jail. The nation that profited from imported slave labor, while attempting to lecture others around the world about human rights. The same flag that means the world to some of it’s residents, has for too long also represented inequality, injustice, oppression, enslavement, exploitation, discrimination, geo-political resource extraction, and so on and so forth to others inside and outside of it’s borders. None of which I said is to say that the USA is an awful place to live.
There are still thousands of people around the world literally dying to get to America fleeing incredibly horrific situations. They are fleeing God-knows-what, to come to a land they know only of, as an idea. A place where they believe they can go and is the “Land of the Free, Home of the Brave”. A place where one can go and with just sheer will, hard work and determination, you can make a comfortable place to live and be free. A place where you are free to practice your faith. A place where you are only judged by your character and not your color or sex. A place that is an IDEA that exists on paper and inside your mind, but does it really exist in practice? If so, for all, some, none or whom specifically?
That is why it is so very necessary that we work incredibly hard to show that that divide exists. That is why we must also not just point at that chasm, but also draw up plans to build boats, bridges, airplanes, whatever we can to bring the Idea and the Nation closer together. We can’t just protest and march. We must run for office and hold our elected officials accountable. We must not just play by the rules, we must become rules experts. James Baldwin may have said it best, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time”. Well I don’t know about you, but I can’t stay mad forever.