In a discussion I was asked to write follow-ups to my 4th of July post “Allegiance“, this is the first in that series. I thought it appropriate to begin with the reason I wrote that post.
As I scrolled down my social media feeds I saw this picture.
I don’t know what it was about this meme that made me stop and think but it did. This picture is an obvious response to the recent controversy surrounding Nike & Colin Kaepernick. It is unfortunate that the author is trying to boil a rather complex problem down to 16 words. Doing this the creator of the meme is trying to completely redirect and undermine the conversation rather than wading into a difficult and uncomfortable conversation. (I’m not doing much better but 1,000 word intro is better than a 16 word conclusion.)
From the outset I want it known the meme is historically wrong, it represents a myth of America (myth being a story told to unite a group of people in a common culture). The Betsy Ross flag was first used in 1777 meaning it was not the flag of Independence etc., as the picture represents. This flag has become a symbol of the American Revolution, but only through the retellings meant to create patriotic allegiance. Such retellings look past the history to create a story of what is essential to being American. But more than this what the picture implies is that it is un-patriotic to in anyway question America’s moral heritage and it’s continued commitment to those moral standards. The meme wants us to associate this flag with American purity, a time when the morally upstanding Americans the of evil British tyranny. Disregard the fact that these founders intentionally removed references of slavery from the Declaration, and bullied natives, we said “all men are created equal”. There is nothing inherently wrong about mythologizing the past to help exemplify our ideals. The problem is that the meme uses it as a weapon saying (implicitly), “how dare you question the goodness of this country, look at the wonderful things it has provided you!” But this simply dismisses the issues which were raised about whether we actually provide justice for all.
Now I also admit that from what I have heard Mr. Kaepernick is not the best spokesman for his position and his brand of protest is isolating. And some who take his side are very disrespectful toward those who have served in the military. I have even seen people who lump all middle America’s into white supremacy groups. But here we have the real issue millions of people choosing sides on a very important issue based on poor representatives of the issues.
This brings me to where I started the last post. What I hear from those who support the position represented by the meme is, that actions like Mr. Kaepernick’s disrespect the American ideals represented by the flag. That is we stand not because America is perfect but because we are called to live to the ideals we embody. At the same time I hear from those supportive of Me. Kaepernick kneeling is important as a sign to America that we are not living up to are ideals and we don’t seem to care. This is the debate as it has been expressed too me. Both sides agree America has ideals; I would go further to say most feel these ideals can be summed up in the phrase “liberty and justice for all”. Both sides believer America has not always lived up to the ideals. So the debate comes to a head because one side says it is important to uphold the ideals which hopefully guide us, while the other side says we should lament our failure to live them out. Now at this point I am oversimplifying the debate, removing the complexities so that I can see were the crux lies. But once we have done this we can begin to listen to one another. We can listen to those who still acutely feel the injustice present in America. We can listen to those whose loved ones died fighting for America’s ideals. But the answers do not come from shouting each other down or posting 16 word responses. The answers to our problems come through hearing what others are saying and clearly articulating our beliefs. In my Life I’ve had these challenging conversations, sometimes I’ve sounded ignorant, sometimes I’ve left thinking the other person has real issues, and sometimes I’ve had my eyes opened to real problems in society and in myself. The conversations on justice and national ideals need to take place and need to happen when cameras aren’t on. But these must be real conversations, listening conversations where the point is “I grow” not “I prove I’m right”.