Sunday, August 3, 2014

For some, the flag represents the expression of their own hate

In Kent there used to be a bar & grill called “Papa’s Pub,” where ordinary people could hang out  and talk, play pool or watch sporting events, and was spacious enough that it never felt “crowded.” But one day it closed its doors, which I found somewhat regrettable despite the fact that I had only been in the place a few time for company gatherings. 

Then one day a new proprietor claimed its former business, renaming it “Bourbon Jack’s” with the ‘k” formed by the figure of a female dressed in a “honky-tonk” outfit making a high kick. The name and symbolism made the following statement: This is a “Country & Western, white-bread hang-out for “real” Americans. And it accomplished exactly that; every time I walk past it, I wish that someone like a Reggie Hammond from the film 48 Hours would stroll in and announce he was the “new sheriff in town” and upset this little world of “redneck” clientele.

I realize that places like this have a “need” to exist; I can “understand” how people might want to congregate free of “gangstas,” “thugs” or “punks,” but this goes way beyond that; I mean, these are white people conscious of race who want a place where they can go and feel “at home” among their own “kind.” The one thing about the new establishment that I find requiring additional discussion is the prevalence of the display of the American flag. Although I’ve never been in the place, you can’t help but notice whenever you walk past the open front door that there is this huge—and I mean huge—U.S. flag draped over almost the entire back wall. In the front of the building are paraded old style political campaign flags—you know, from when only the vote of white people was counted. 

Not that I should be surprised by any of this; after all, Kent is a Republican town with insular, provincial attitudes despite its phony efforts at staging “culturally diverse” events to prove otherwise. But the question is: What is the meaning of the American flag to people like this? After all, these same people probably would show the same kind of “respect” for the Confederate flag, which would seem a contradiction in terms—since the “rebel” flag ostensibly stands for everything the “union” flag stands for, such as freedom and rights for all people, not just white folks.

Now, technically-speaking the American flag is supposed to stand for such flowery sentiments as the following: 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Of course, the Declaration of Independence wasn’t without its “caveats”—such as inciting racism: “He (King George) has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.” The Constitution also declared that slaves were three-fifths human, and the U.S. Supreme Court decided in the Dred Scot case that blacks had no rights that any white man was bound to respect, and this of course could be applied to other races and ethnicities as well. 

But that all changed with the end of the Civil War, at least in principle, if not always in fact. After the war and when the Industrial Age began in earnest, the U.S. accepted just about anyone without question (so long as they were European) who yearned for “freedom.” Living free in the land of opportunity was what the American flag stood for, regardless of previous class or condition. Everyone was “equal” under the flag.

But some people—the so-called “real” Americans—merely saw “aliens” who brought with them “alien” and “inferior” culture. They never understood—and still don’t—that when you scratch beneath the surface, everyone really has the same wants, needs and desires. But it goes beyond even that. “Real”—meaning white—Americans believe that only those people who “resemble” the “founders” of this country have any “right” to expect all of the “privileges” of being “American.” To them, the flag represents exclusion, not inclusion. Their peculiar brand of “America” is not the “New World” that the founders—particularly James Monroe via the Monroe Doctrine—envisioned. It is rather a polished-up “Old World” vision that is meant to define what an American in a race-based fashion. 

The “flag,” then, represents European ancestry, belief in white supremacy, a militaristic, chest-thumping attitude that Richard Slotkin noted in his book Regeneration Through Violence, that those white Americans who view of the nation as an exclusively Anglo/Saxon/Nordic preserve inherently view the “dark people” wherever they may be found as the “enemy”—a threat to their world, and control of it, and need to be “eliminated” physically when "necessary," and symbolically when not. This obviously explains why so many people—particularly the ones who formed the “Tea Party”—became discombobulated when a black man was elected president.

The flag should represent the nation and what its moral principles are—not the bigotry of a single race. After all, there was a native people here that predated the European invasion by at least 10,000 years. The United States may be an entity created by the original (white) colonists, but the ongoing construction of the country included such ingredients as the exploitation and abuse of nonwhite  labor, and as political fodder as props of fear and scapegoat propaganda—and they survived all of this to become Americans too.  

Thus the “rednecks” who parade the flag need minorities in order to create the illusion of some out-dated version of what being an American means—just as many white Southerners still cling to the Confederate flag when its true “meaning” has long been exposed and discredited as racially-motivated hate. Otherwise, these people would be just an artifact of a reactionary past, a sad and pathetic remnant that refuses to die out as the dinosaurs of another age.

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