Flag Day celebrates the symbolism of unity that some Black people feel left out of
“The biggest public proponents of the flag have been people who make it a point to tell people like myself who are Black that this is not our country,” journalist Ernest Owens says.
Flag Day is a recognition of one of the greatest symbols of freedom, the 13 stripes and 50 stars which represent the United States.
The red in the flag is for valor, white for purity, and blue in honor of perseverance. However, the banner of liberty, justice, and the pursuit of happiness for all do not always cover all Americans, in particular Black ones.
‘Love it or leave it’ is a favorite maxim directed at those who don’t fall in line and criticize America for her faults. But as activist and essayist James Baldwin once declared, “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
Black folks are patriotic and critical, comfortably in the middle of a Venn Diagram rather than on opposing sides.
“I’m not only Black— I’m Black, and I’m a military brat. Meaning that my dad, my African-American dad went overseas and fought for a country that basically told him to kick rocks a lot of the time,” Denise Clay- Murray, columnist for the Philadelphia Sun, says to theGrio.
Clay-Murray was born on Fort Dix in New Jersey and spent her formative years on Army bases as her father served the country. It’s an experience that opened her eyes as she grew older and “you really start to observe America for what it is.”
Clay-Murray’s father served in the Army for 32 years. She’d often debate him about the direct contradiction of wearing the camouflage fatigue to defend the land of the brave but returning home to be treated as the other.
“What he told me was that if Black people didn’t believe in the concept of America, despite how that reality sometimes played out for us, then we’d probably be out here just like randomly punching people in the face,” she explains.
“Because you know, and the reason we know, the reason we believe in it so much is because we think that someday it’s going to apply to us. We’ve been looking for that someday for a long time now, but we kind of have to be optimistic about it.”
The Second Continental Congress passed a resolution on June 14, 1777, to recognize that “the flag of the United States be 13 stripes, alternate red and white,” and that “the union be 13 stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.” Elizabeth “Betsy” Ross is credited with making the first flag.
President Woodrow Wilson established Flag Day 100 years later in 1916 to celebrate the milestone. On most days, Old Glory is held high in a place of honor in government buildings, homes, schools, and businesses. It flies with even more gusto every June 14 but it’s just another day for some.
“No,” Ernest Owens, Editor at Large at Philadelphia Magazine and CEO of Ernest Media Empire, LLC, responds to theGrio when asked if he celebrates.
Owens cites the current conversations about race, justice and inequality that make it difficult to share in the pride some feel over the flag.
“The biggest public proponents of the flag have been people who make it a point to tell people like myself who are Black that this is not our country,” he states.
Owens references former President Barack Obama whose presidency marked a watershed moment. Alas, the post-racial America that was heralded didn’t come to pass as the 44th POTUS was denigrated with racial slurs and forced to show his papers after Donald Trump insinuated that Obama was a secret Muslim who wasn’t even born in America but Kenya.
Trump, the chief birther, would go on to succeed Obama after he served two terms in the Oval Office.
“You look at someone like President Barack Obama, who was the first Black president,” Owens begins.
He continues, “You’re supposed to be the person that represents this country. And the fact that he wasn’t given a level of respect by those who claim to be patriots and those who are supportive of the flag tells me that such patriotism is not rooted in equality. It’s not rooted in inclusion.”
The Trump presidency gave more people pause over the flag as its become even more politicized. The nation’s standard bearer was used as a weapon during the Jan. 6 insurrection on Capitol Hill.
Owens felt that Trump was being given too much energy. He invoked the 20-year US war in Afghanistan that was retribution for the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
“We knew that was a senseless war and the way that the flag was used and emphasized heavily during wartime, even though we were fighting a war, it made me question what the flag represented and what this type of America represented… I think that happened for me many years ago, long before Trump. And I just think too many people have amnesia about the controversy, the flag, and the history of it.”
Clay-Murray isn’t going to yield any sense of ownership of the flag.
“Someone who’s a Trumper looks at that flag and the way I look at that flag are going to be two different ways because they see it as their birthright and I see it as a birthright you’re trying to take from me,” she states.
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