Perhaps it was in this moment I happened upon the house, unremarkable but for a small American flag jutting out of its frame like a rhinoceros horn. I hesitated at the sight of the banner so close to my home and was suddenly wary. Weary. I saw the flag and without thinking thought it code: Patriot. MAGA. Make everything white again. Even with all I know about the history of Black people in this country, I’ve never been afraid of the flag. On this day, however, I felt how I feel when I see the Confederate flag: Unsafe. My breath shallowed. When did this happen? When did the sight of an American flag flying from a private residence become something that gave me pause? Perhaps it was the untrusted whiteness of my new neighborhood. Perhaps my reaction was a kind of PTSD, a result of that summer’s back-to-back televised police killings of unarmed Black men or the murders at Mother Emanuel the year before. Perhaps it was the ridiculous victory of Trump. I saw the flag and remembered what I had been warned time and again about “progressive” Atlanta: Drive thirty minutes outside of the perimeter in any direction and it’s a whole different story.
Source: Flag Code
While I share little of Marable’s life experience, I realized while reading her piece that I’ve developed a similar unsafe feeling about the flag. It’s not a voluntary thing – it’s something that has built up over two+ years of seeing American flags in photos of MAGA rallies & white nationalist marches but not so much at Black Lives Matter marches or pro-choice rallies. I’m sure you’ve also noticed the correlation between seeing an American flag emoji in someone’s Twitter bio next to the MAGA hashtag and the tendency of that person to act like a misogynist asshole. While it’s hardly a new thing, the aggressive, intolerant, nationalistic right has been particularly effective in visibly wrapping themselves in the flag lately. It’s great branding for them, but it’s not doing the flag any favors.
By giving everything they hold dear–or perhaps everything they can use as a tool of control–a flag and a pledge, Evangelical Christianity demanded the sort of unflinching and emotional loyalty that most Americans feel on the 4th of July. They saw how Americans proudly rally behind our flag and our Pledge, and knew they could recreate that sort of communal passion with their own.
I associate heartfelt patriotism with white nationalist Evangelical Christianity so much that I’m not even interested in learning how to practice patriotism anymore. In my mind, patriotism means stepping in line, exhibiting unyielding loyalty even in the face of fascism, and sacrificing myself on the altar of the Cause. I won’t do it. I can’t.
I understand viscerally how someone whose life trajectory led to the rejection of an abusive deity can feel compelled to give up not only on that deity, but also on the symbols and rituals associated with the nation that is so often conflated with the divine in Jesus Land, USA. I grew up with white Christian nationalism too. With ritual recitations of the pledges to the American flag, the Christian flag, and the Bible at the beginning of every day in my Christian elementary school, with elementary school talents shows that ended with Lee Greenwood sing-a-longs.
Because the patriotism that I grew up with was tied to authoritarian Christianity, the more I rejected that toxic Christianity, the more I became ambivalent at best about expressions of patriotism. Singing “You’re a Grand Old Flag” is now nearly as awkward to me as singing, “Oh, You Can’t Get to Heaven.” To me now, as the American atmosphere grows ever more suffocating, it feels like the entire country is turning into a Christian school, turning into the oppressive and abusive evangelical milieu of my childhood, from which I have worked hard to escape. To many with less privilege than me (and, despite being queer, I have a lot), it must feel worse than that. Hate crimes are up as Trump and the Republican Party have emboldened their bigoted supporters to act on their hate and resentments; school shootings are more frequent occurrences than the weekly release of a new episode of your favorite TV show; police violence against African-Americans is rampant.