The flag is a symbol of a nation. You see flags at the Olympic Games, in front of government buildings and in backyards for national holiday barbecues. But recently, it’s hard not to notice that fringe movements have taken the American flag and made it a symbol of issue’s movements, a real departure from 200 years of tradition. As a symbol, the American flag has been red white and blue for a very long time. The stars symbolize in each state, the stripes of the original 13 colonies.
Lincoln said of the US flag in the midst of the Civil War that "Standing as I do, with my hand upon this staff, and under the folds of the American flag, I ask you to stand by me so long as I stand by it."
He was right, as a communication tool a flag symbolizes everyone in a country, not just a few. So using a flag to exclude people goes against the grain of a national identity and does not help to heal the wounds of any nation. The result can be, as Colin Kaepernick put it, "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color."
The murder of George Floyd was a wakeup call that people of color were dying at a disproportionate rate at the hands of police. It sparked a national dialogue to find a way to stop the violence. In 2022 US police officers killed 1,176 people, and Black people made up 1 in 4 of those deaths. Black people are 3 times more likely to die at the hands of police than white people in America .
By then white supremacists in their quest to standardize and normalize their dog whistles of hatred had come to see that the confederate battle flag was no longer an effective symbol of hatred and exclusion. They looked for other symbols that they could mainstream.
Then suddenly came a variety of black and white variance flags symbolizing all types of movements. One of which was the "blue lives matter '' flag.
I think we can all agree that every human life is important, and to that end we could talk about the need for healthcare, education, and access to nutritious food. And, all can agree that the safety of police and first responders is exceptionally important in any civil society.
But what happened with the blue lives matter counter movement flag was it was positioned as a response to the Black Lives Matter movement. That was an exceptionally unfair concept, one which should never have come to be in the first place. But, soon we saw the flags everywhere from houses to the back of minivans to social media. I was saddened some months ago to see a local police department use the blue lives matter flag in an official post and have it get more than 300 likes.
By mainstreaming and embracing what had become an accepted image, it was radicalized by white supremacists, placing a destructive tool into the hands of people who didn’t know they were saying, and sharing something offensive. Many police departments came to reject the flag, as it does not build a bridge of trust and understanding and listening.
Flags from millennia the time of the Romans onto Facebook today have had a powerful ability to unite people or divide them. The emergence of the modern state saw a need for a common image for people to begin to think of themselves as united and proud of their nation. Symbols are powerful tools in communications. Back in 1923, when the US adapted the pledge of allegiance, it's wording was intentional:
"I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
Let’s hope that we can go back to having the US flag with a good old, red, white and blue symbol for all Americans, not some simple example of opportunity, freedom, and hatred and division.