When I was a young Girl Scout, we learned a lot about the American flag. As the Girl Scouts of the United States of America, that is something you are required to do (along with memorise the Girl Scout Law, Girl Scout Pledge, and of course the United States Pledge of Allegiance). We learned how to present the colours (i.e., the flag), how to fold and store the American flag properly, and that if the American flag were ever soiled, it was to be burned.
I took this responsibility seriously, understanding (or so I thought) the importance of our flag– what it stands for, what it means. In elementary school, we extensively studied the lyrics of The Star Spangled Banner, written by Sir Francis Scott Key. Oh say, does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave? O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave? Pure patriotic poetry. Not to knock the rather more bloodthirsty La Marseillaise of the French or the more calm and dignified God Save Our Queen, but our National Anthem really encompassed the American spirit and I could just picture Sir Francis Scott Key in battle, amidst the chaos, glancing up to see our Stars and Stripes. Heart bursting with pride, I would rise, cover my heart with my right hand, and loudly (so as to demonstrate to the whole class I knew all the words like the insufferable know-it-all that I was) recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
My mother once remarked to me how odd she found it that we were taught to stand up, face a flag and recite these words. Of course, she’s an immigrant and naturalised US citizen, so she too memorised these words and recited them. In retrospect, there is something almost religious about it, beyond the actual mention of God (whatever happened to separation of Church and State?).
Undoubtedly, you will be aware of the drama unfolding in regards to our flag as of late. In fact, it’s a drama that’s been a year in the making from 2016, when Colin Kaepernick decided to take a knee during an NFL game’s National Anthem. If you’re slightly informed about the situation, you’ll know that Kaepernick decided to take a knee to acknowledge the racial injustices Black Americans still face in our society. Of course, his decision to kneel was met with immediate ire from Conservatives everywhere including firebrand Conservative commentator, Tomi Lahren.
Fast forward to this weekend, when President 45 decided to take to Twitter to blast the NFL players and sports teams who continued to resist him (I raise my glass to you, Steph Curry and company), but also to kneel for Black Lives Matter. In pure presidential form (eye roll), he retorted venomously saying that those that #TakeAKnee during our anthem in front of our flag are disrespecting the flag.
Which immediately made me think of the amount of straight garbage I have seen sold with the American flag plastered all over it. I have seen American flag bikinis, American flag Daisy Duke shorts, American flag bro tanks, American flag branding on a 24-pack of beer, American flag branding on BBQ sauce, American flag swim shorts, American flag cups, napkins, and plates, American flag floaties, American flag pillows, American flag trucker hats. The list goes on and on and on. And on.
And yet, this does not seem disrespectful to the many Conservatives (and my own Liberal friends, to be fair) who don their “Back to Back World War Winners” caps (YES. THESE EXIST. It is disgusting) and drive up to the lake to run about in their American flag err’ything? Apparently not. In fact, living abroad for about four years now, and having been to many different countries, I can’t say I’ve ever seen any other country that so proudly plasters its flag on everything, except for during the World Cup or during an actual war. I’m pretty sure many of my European friends find the American propensity to “throw a flag on it!” kind of weird and vaguely disturbing.
I’m pretty active on Twitter these days, and one Twitter user pointed out the code regarding the US Flag… which in effect means all the aforementioned are legally considered disrespectful to the flag.
Being American means a lot of things. It means sometimes having an irrational love for Oreos or PopTarts or drunk Taco Bell. It means having the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It means not yet having single payer healthcare and spending an arm and a leg for higher education. It means feeling this weird need to defend the song “Party in the USA” when you’re abroad and arguing about whether Chicago deep dish or New York style pizza is better. Being American and standing for American values also means it is okay, and in fact your right!, to kneel in front of the American flag. It means that this flag protects our Freedom of Speech and the right to openly or privately express one’s feelings about the state of our Union.
As a patriotic American citizen and former Girl Scout and US government employee, I cannot in good conscience agree with the President. I cannot ignore the racial injustice so many Americans face and how little has been done to address it. I was raised to believe in liberty and justice for all. As far as I can tell, that has yet to happen.
There’s that saying, “If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything.” I remember a lot of the adults in my childhood would repeat this to me. Know your morals, they’d advise. Know what you stand for and when the time comes, stand for it. Except the time for moral judgement has come, and you’ll find me taking a knee because I know exactly where I stand.