Whose Flag Is It Anyway?

It’s ours. All of ours.
July 2, 2019
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(Photo by Getty Images)

Mark this down as Peak Corporate Performative Wokeness.  The Wall Street Journal reports:

Nike Inc. is yanking a U.S.A.-themed sneaker featuring an early American flag after NFL star-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick told the company it shouldn’t sell a shoe with a symbol that he and others consider offensive, according to people familiar with the matter…

After images of the shoe were posted online, Mr. Kaepernick, a Nike endorser, reached out to company officials saying that he and others felt the Betsy Ross flag is an offensive symbol because of its connection to an era of slavery, the people said. Some users on social media responded to posts about the shoe with similar concerns. Mr. Kaepernick declined to comment.

The design was created in the 1770s to represent the 13 original colonies, though there were many early versions of the America flag, according to the Smithsonian. In the 1790s, stars and bars were added to reflect the addition of Vermont and Kentucky as states. U.S. flag designs continued to change as states were admitted to the union until the 50th star, for Hawaii, was added in 1960.

The backlash was quick and harsh. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey fired off a Twitter thread, announcing that he has “ordered the Arizona Commerce Authority to withdraw all financial incentive dollars under their discretion that the State was providing for the company to locate here.” Nike had just announced plans to open up a new plant in Goodyear, Ariz. 

And, as if the flag fiasco was not bad enough, the same day that Nike pulled the Betsy Ross shoes, the company was also kowtowing to the Chinese. 

Nike has stopped selling some products in China after a fashion designer’s support for protests in Hong Kong sparked a social media backlash.

The US retail giant said in a statement Thursday that it had decided to remove some of its goods “based on feedback from Chinese consumers.”

As David French tweeted:

Of course, Nike is a private company and is free to make these sorts of business decisions. And we are free to comment on the company’s feckless spinelessness. 

But another point needs to be made here…

If you spend any time at all on social media today (which is probably not recommended), you’ll notice a theme from some of Nike’s defenders: Tthe company was justified in yanking the Betsy Ross flag because it has become a symbol of white nationalism. The Wall Street Journal notes:

In 2016, the superintendent of a Michigan school district apologized after students waved the Betsy Ross flag at a high-school football game, saying that for some it is a symbol of white supremacy and nationalism, according to Mlive.com, a local news outlet. While the flag’s use isn’t widespread, the local chapter of the NAACP said at the time that it has been appropriated by some extremist groups opposed to America’s increasing diversity.

Deep breath, because I feel a rant coming on.

Why do the bigots get to hijack our symbols? It’s not their goddamn flag. It’s ours. 

So why are we giving them veto power? Are we really going to let every mouth breathing, skinhead, proud boy, incel define what symbols we can use? 

This isn’t the Confederate flag; it’s not statue of a Confederate general or slaveholder. It’s a part of American history and the only way they get to f*** it up is if we let them. The woke left is only too happy to cave to claims of racism no matter how tenuous the connection.

Let’s stipulate that some woke progressives find patriotism and flag waving in the Era of Trump to be problematic (and, honestly, did so even BT—Before Trump).  This year’s Trumpanista July 4 marks Peak Trump Obnoxiousness. Is anyone going to sit back and let him hijack the national holiday? No, because he doesn’t get to define it for the rest of us. 

No matter who waves the American flag, or celebrates our nation’s founding—no matter how boorish, ignorant, or even bigoted they might be—they don’t get to take it away from us. 

It’s not their goddamn country, it’s ours.

Charles Sykes

Charlie Sykes is a founder and editor-at-large of The Bulwark and the author of How the Right Lost Its Mind. He is also the host of The Bulwark Podcast and an MSNBC contributor.