White Supremacists have hijacked the American flag

Our nation’s flag symbolizes the history, pride, and prejudice our country has experienced since its founding. However, not all Americans can agree on what those colors genuinely mean. Recently, the actions of white supremacists like those in Charlottesville have appropriated the American flag as a rallying point for their agenda and beliefs, which include racism and anti-Semitism; these actions have led to an uproar among citizens across the country who demand that we take back our flag and all that it represents from those that wish to use it as an offensive symbol of hate and division.

Flying the flag these days is like flying a Nazi banner. In their vile causes, far-right extremists have appropriated the red-white-and-blue symbolism. I don’t want them to use the flag as an excuse for hatred. And I don’t want Americans to be victimized by bigots who hijack our nation’s symbols. That flag can and should be reclaimed. White supremacy turns back centuries of progress, offering only darkness over light.

White Supremacists have made it a point to appropriate American flags from the days following the Civil War. One of these organizations was the Ku Klux Klan, displaying white-hooded Klansmen next to a red, white, and blue flag. Since the election of Donald Trump, neo-Nazis have also co-opted traditional patriotic imagery, from using Trump’s campaign slogan — “Make America Great Again” — to raising Nazi flags over buildings in College Park, Maryland.

A number of racial pamphlets called “The Knights of Liberty” were released by the United States government upon entry into World War I, encouraging the harassment of German Americans. This led to several attacks on German immigrants across the country. Even then, some anti-Semitic bigots did not want Jews or other religious or ethnic minorities in this country. McCarthyism grew stronger after World War II, and bigotry spread as people feared another Communist takeover (this time by Chinese spies), so anyone who was not wholly American-including Jews and Catholics-was shamed or attacked. The same fear led to Japanese internment camps during World War II and the deportation of Mexican citizens.

Police disproportionately kill black men, and that doesn’t just apply to unarmed black men. An officer of color, for example, stands a higher chance of being fired or suspended without pay despite having done nothing wrong. There’s no denying racism lives on, whether it’s shown by wearing a Swastika armband or throwing bananas at soccer players because they’re Black. First, we must acknowledge that racism will not disappear by itself. Racism will only go away if white people educate themselves on what racism is and take action — and that means doing more than having a conversation. It’s okay to speak with someone who disagrees with you, but you can’t shut out new perspectives, especially if they come from people who your beliefs have harmed. The second thing we need to remember is that symbolism matters.

Our country tends to attack problems’ symptoms when they arise immediately. Take guns, for example. When mass shootings occur-as they inevitably do-we demand a ban on assault weapons, an end to gun show sales, and stricter background checks. As a society, we don’t ask why these massacres keep happening with such regularity, nor do we ask what societal issues may contribute to them. Instead, we try to stop these senseless tragedies from happening with Band-Aid solutions that are seldom effective. Racism is not a symptom of anything. It is a virus that lives independently of other social issues but still thrives within society and poisons people’s minds against others based solely on their race. And it needs to be attacked as such. If we want to end racism in America truly, we will need to examine how we view each other and dismantle systems of oppression.

Anti-racists continue to raise awareness about Confederate flags flying over state capitals and marches through city streets with Black Lives Matter activists-and rightly so, all things that represent discrimination should be challenged. Additionally, many companies refuse to manufacture or sell Confederate merchandise, and some Southern states have even taken down their flags from public spaces. Although some may still see these efforts as unpatriotic since they’re banning symbols, remember: what makes something unpatriotic is upholding principles of bigotry against another group of people who simply want to live in peace. If you fly a symbol of hate, you stand for hate, regardless of whether it flies from your flagpole or hangs on your wall. If you stand for hate, then you are not patriotic.

We should stop doing anything that give racists what they want. If we allow racists to take our symbols away from us, we encourage them to continue fighting for what they believe in. We need to take control of these symbols back. It is vital to let white supremacists know that their message is not well-received by others in society, even if they simply fly a flag on their porch.

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