When a flag includes all

A sepia photo of a little girl on a beach, with a big bow in her hair, in the 1930s, waving an American flag overhead with her right hand, and holding the collar of a black spaniel with her left hand.
Celebrating July 4th, 1931, Sandy Point, Whidbey Island, WA.

On Nov. 6, 2020, I unpackaged a brand new American flag and put it out to fly, for the first time in four years.

It was my signal to the world that the possibility of “America” survives. The 2020 election is still officially undecided, but as they have for decades, the media has projected the winner, and that team is Joe Biden, president-elect, and Kamala Harris, vice president-elect. The world exhales.

I am not alone in unfurling my flag. Flag-waving is often a worrisome symbol of nationalism, here, as well as around the world. But to many Americans it also has a more nuanced meaning, of pride in our essential charactertistic: we are a nation of immigrants, a nation that is supposed to open its arms to the world, and invite anyone to seek refuge here, and citizenship, too, offering “liberty and justice for all.”

As an ideal, “Americanism” is not just for the native born, or a single race or ethnicity. And you can immigrate here and become an American, and in theory enjoy equal rights regardless of your national origin, ethnicity, color, religion, age, physical or intellectual abilities, sexual or gender identification. “Give me your tired, your poor,” as Emma Lazarus’ poem, “The New Colossus,” proclaims on the Statue of Liberty.

Despite our high-flown rhetoric, in practice the nation has a bad record of systemic racism, xenophobia and discrimination against many born here as well as certain immigrants. Many of us thought it was improving. During the past four years that idea of welcoming inclusiveness and equity has been shattered, even reversed, with horrifying consequences. Our thin veneer of naiveté was quickly exposed in immigration detention centers; in a misbegotten southern border wall; in a ban on Muslims immigrating from certain nations; in a lowered overall immigration quota; in the constant killing knees on the necks of black Americans. And in a thousand little cuts to the peace of mind and safety of current American citizens who are not straight white evangelical Christian cisgendered males. In this the flag has indeed been a symbol of nationalism, hostility, exclusion and oppression.

I am flying the American flag again in hope. In the hope that we will seek to be better than we have been, to express a spirit of boundless possibility and optimism. I hope we will live up to that ideal and not recreate a nation of conquest, global interference, discrimination and exclusion.

We wave that flag because the ideas and hope of welcome, international cooperation on the environment, global health, peace and multicultural progress are once again possible. Even more, we hope we can build a better society that includes and nurtures all of our citizens, where the flag represents us all without qualification.