Giving Up the Flag is a Mistake

Photo by Alex Martinez on Unsplash

On her wall, my daughter has a framed photocopy of a New York Times article; the accompanying picture shows my mother, then a member of Women Strike for Peace, with me — in a stroller — at a Ban the Bomb rally at the UN in the early 60s.

Just to start by underlining: I spent a slice of my childhood, in the 1960s and 1970s, going to protests and political rallies for progressive causes.

When I went to meetings or organizing events with my father, he always insisted that an American flag be displayed. This was often a controversial position to take: many members of the New Left saw the Stars & Stripes as a banner of imperialism.

My father’s argument was that it would be a mistake to “surrender the flag” to the opposition, to allow protest — that most quintessentially American activity — to be tarred as “unpatriotic.” The United States, after all, was “birthed” by protesters — under the banner of Betsy Ross’s circle-of-thirteen-stars flag.

And so . . . to Colin Kaepernick and Nike.

Nike recently came out with a special edition of their Air Max 1 Quick Strike sneakers, adorned with an image of the first American flag.

Kaepernick privately protested that the flag was a symbol of a racist period of history.

The shoes were withdrawn.

This is a mistake, on the part of both Kaepernick — for whom I have a great deal of respect and admiration — and for Nike.

The first flag of the United States has become too toxic to display?

I have no interest in defending the Native American genocide, slavery, imperialism, corporate and cultural hegemony, racism, sexism, etc.

But this is like coming out against bricks because: Prisons are made out of bricks!

The various potential meanings of the flag aside: With a significant percentage of Americans HUNGRY on a regular basis, with a greater wealth gap than we’ve had since the Gilded Age, with the President shredding the Constitution into smaller and smaller pieces on a daily basis, the focus of social justice energy is on . . . the iconography of sneakers?

This is not . . . useful.

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