The recent decision by the Army Corps of Engineers to suspend completion of the Dakota Access pipeline in the face of protests from Sioux Indians and environmentalists is, of course, too little and too late. The pipeline is nearly finished, with the “hold-up” being whether to build a pipe across the Missouri River, and Donald Trump is waiting in the wings to undo the move. The Corps decided on the delay with the rationalization that it had not done an environmental review for the 1,170 mile project. You mean they had not done an environmental impact review before they even began the project? The administration previously relied on the “good faith” of the pipeline’s builders to insure that it was environmentally safe. One should note that the Sioux Indians do have a legitimate complaint; the pipeline originally was supposed to have passed well east of “unceded” Sioux land, but mostly white Bismarck was “outraged” by the potential for water quality impacts, so the pipeline was diverted west of the city into Sioux land without any prior discussion, since the complaints of whites have greater “weight.”
Since this will likely be a Pyrrhic victory for the Sioux and environmentalists, what interested me was an image supplied by one of the news outlets, showing a white man on the near end of a bridge, and a Sioux Indian on the far end, with this caption:
U.S. Navy veteran John Gutekanst from Athens, Ohio, waves an American flag as an activist approaches the police barricade with his hands up on a bridge near Oceti Sakowin Camp.
Why did this interest me? Because I am “fascinated” by what motivates people to go around waving the flag. The other day I saw someone in a pickup truck with a regulation-size flag raised from the cab. Why this “in-your-face” display of phony “patriotism”? And I do mean phony, because it really has nothing to do with “patriotism,” but nationalism, nativism and xenophobia. Why does this navy veteran in the picture think he is “special” merely because he is white? Is he denying that Native Americans have rights because they are not "Americans" by his definition? Does it mean anything to him that 11 percent of combat deaths in the so-called “Iraqi Freedom” war were Hispanic, in line with their proportion of the population? No, it doesn’t even register in his mind because they are the “enemy” on the “home front.”
The media continually portrays current military “heroes” as solely white (including women, who constituted .025 percent of the U.S. deaths in Iraq, 90 percent from non-combat-related “accidents”), giving the public the impression that only whites fought and died for “our freedom.” This allows white nationalists and white supremacist types to go around pretending that only they represent what the flag “means” because they are the only ones fighting for the “freedom” it represents.
Of course, what “freedom” and “patriotism” means is the question. Does the flag “represent” the freedom as expressed in the Declaration of Independence?: 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. Some may argue about the “created equal” part if that means something other than the strictly physiological, but all the rest of it is not open to “debate”—it applies to all, regardless of race, “ethnicity” or religion.
Thus these bigots waving the flag do not actually believe in what the flag stands for. I mentioned here an incident where I was listening to an older white female expressing her nativism and racism, which forced me to cut-in on her harangue; she told me to go serve this country, to which I informed her that I did serve seven years in the Army; what about her? She fumbled and stumbled before telling me to “go back in” and something about “serving her country” by being a nurse. This was just more evidence of the ignorance and self-serving stereotyping by white people who see themselves as the only “legitimate” Americans, and those who exist outside their sphere of privilege and entitlement have no rights that they should be forced to respect.
I am as “proud” to be an American as anyone in this country. But the reality is that I feel like a foreigner in my own country by all these flag waivers, because I know that I am excluded from the world they envision that flag represents. It doesn’t matter that I am as “American” as any American who is white; “they” are the “creators,” and they have the “right” to decide who or who isn’t included or excluded by the rights embodied by the flag. But who has the right to make that decision? The flag isn’t making that decision, but people who are desecrating it by the very act of forcing it to “represent” their hate and bigotry.