I’ve been seeing a lot of photos and conversation lately concerning the desecration of the American Flag. I wish I could say that most of the conversations have been comprised of intelligent, reasonable discourse over the importance of the First Amendment and the concerns of those who burn or trample the flag, but sadly this is not so.
What I have seen rather, is the usual bigoted, “Love it or Leave it” sort of blind patriotism that all too often dominates these conversations. Allow me to illustrate. This meme was recently posted by a conservative Facebook page.
This picture really inflamed my senses. There are really two separate (but related) issues with this photo. Let me address the obvious racial one first.
The suggestion here is that these two women are receiving Welfare. Why? The message is clear: For no other reason than the color of their skin. They’re black, therefore they must be on Welfare. I want so badly to believe that sort of thinking no longer exists, but that would be a huge, dangerous lie I would be telling myself. The level of disgust I feel when I see this is enough to cause actual nausea. There is no excusing something this offensive. Regrettably, many of the comments on this Facebook page made this photo and its racist message pale by comparison.
Why, when given an opportunity to demonstrate the very worst aspects of human nature do so many rise to the challenge?
The other, equally important issue, and the one that others on that Facebook page addressed with equal intelligence and class, is that of flag desecration. Few things seem to inflame Americans the way this does. Many still believe that the act of burning or violating the flag is against the law. It is not. The case of Texas vs. Johnson was a Supreme Court ruling in 1989 that determined that the desecration of the American flag is considered free speech which is protected by the First Amendment and therefore the existing laws in 48 of the 50 states prohibiting this were unconstitutional.
I understand some of the outrage that conflagrates this topic. Many Americans feel that burning a flag is a personal attack and thus, respond with anger. What I want to point out is that the flag is a symbol, and nothing more. (Yes, I realize I’ve stated the obvious. Bear with me.) The idea that seems to get lost in the confusion is what that flag represents. Each person views the symbol in different ways. Personally, I see it as a representation of all of the things I love about my country. It’s innovation and strong spirit. Our struggle to assimilate so many other cultures without stripping away the history or tradition that those cultures bring with them. The beautiful lands that grace our nation and the colorful people who populate them. My vision of the best of America is held in the red, white and blue of that flag and thus, I would never choose to burn it in protest.
But others see something else. For many, both citizens of the U.S. and those of other nations, the flag represents the oppression of American military presence, the perceived evils of Western culture, the overwhelming spread of corporate greed and materialism, the intrusive presence of the intelligence community into the lives of law-abiding citizens, corrupt government, etc. Our nation has a very ugly underbelly and while many choose not to see it, our past and present cannot be ignored. We have a terrible track record of human rights violations throughout our history. The enslavement of blacks, the genocide of the indigenous people, the internment of Japanese-Americans are some of the many deep scars our country must bear and all citizens must not forget.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that America is not loved universally and with good reason. We must live with our shame and carry it along with our pride. What so many of my fellow chest thumping, country music chanting, gun-toting conservative countrymen need to understand is that it is possible to love our country while still accepting responsibility for our transgressions. In fact, it is our duty as citizens to stand up and speak out when we see violations of our ideals. Our founding fathers felt being able to assemble peacefully and petition our government to redress our grievances was so vital, it became part of the first and arguably the most important single article in our Constitution.
The very notion of “Love it or leave it” is both ignorant and irresponsible. We all carry an obligation to shape this land into better versions of the American Dream. Our country, our world even, is a work in progress. We have many challenges to face, many wrongs to be righted and if some wish to draw attention to a cause by exercising their right to free speech and burning a flag, then so be it. The irony is that while some may bristle at the very notion of such an action, the right for anyone to do so is at the very foundation of the freedom we love so much.
The famous quote “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” (which most scholars now feel was not correctly attributed to Voltaire, but may have been written instead by Evelyn Beatrice Hall) is at the very heart of this matter and should be understood implicitly by all who claim to defend American Freedom.
So to all who lament the violation of the flag, I say to you, I DO love my country and I shall NOT leave it when I wish to speak out against the many injustices I see. I will not run away but rather I shall stay and help make my beloved home the best that it can be.