I write this with the assumption that I’ll never run for President of these United States.
FROM ST. LOUIS: Last night, demonstrations erupted in the Shaw area of St. Louis. Hundreds gathered to denounce Vonderrit Myers’ killing. The passionate surge for justice comes on the dawn of the Ferguson October: Weekend of Resistance, a national call to action that’s expected to mobilize some 6,000-10,000 people in the embattled area. With the legacy of Mike Brown still lingering, and the anger at Darren Wilson still festering, tensions were high and apprehension was fierce.
Per usual, Twitter was the go-to for honest, on-the-ground, firsthand accounts of the bubbling situation. Protests started peacefully. However, police soon arrived in ominous riot gear, inciting unnecessary heat in an already precarious situation.
The situation defused when police retreated from the scene.
Militarized police and searing pepper spray are commonplace in these St. Louis streets. But what was particularly unique, and ultimately contentious, was the prevalence of flag burning.
Racist Twitter lost their shit. A nasty onslaught of racist tweets followed as people (like myself) retweeted these mesmeric images and videos of Black bodies exercising their right to free speech. In time, my mentions were dressed in racist glamour, with the common trope being that if I “hate this country so much, I should go back to Africa.” Very original.
I normally don’t engage with anonymous racist trolls. But given the anticipation of this upcoming weekend, I allowed myself to dabble.
This was towards the end of my Twitter tenure. In the beginning, I really did try to highlight the absurdity that people could get upset over flag burning, but were content, if not enthusiastic, about the death of Black children.
I was further astounded that self-proclaimed patriots had very little working knowledge of constitutional rights.
After a lot of head scratching, I decided to decipher what I could.
First things first, flag burning is protected under the First Amendment. That’s basic fact. The Supreme Court ruled so in Texas v. Johnson (1989).
It’s an distressing reality for some. And I get it. For the blindly patriotic, the American flag serves as an infallible symbol of freedom, justice, and democracy. Tie in the red-blooded military ethos that embodies this nation, and suddenly, flag burning is not only disturbing, but culturally criminal.
Ok, I accept that. Why? Because my pro-Black politic is strengthened by my knowledge of the enemy. While the American flag is marketed to the masses as a noble beacon of Western exceptionalism, to me, it represents a network of government and private institutions deadset on Black destruction.
The underbelly of the American flag is not composed of magical capitalist unicorns. It’s soaked in the blood of my ancestors that literally developed and cultivated the economic prowess that America prides itself on.
Furthermore, when rabid patriotism is told to me, it’s usually from the mouths (and wallets) of the richest and whitest American men. Men who ardently refuse to acknowledge the deep history of my existence. That flag is forever tied to these men, and they’ve used their political and financial influence to lull the masses, particularly the white sector, into believing that flag is the end-all-be-all for American greatness.
White people are entitled to love that flag because they’ve benefited monumentally from the fiction it presents. White privilege affords them the space to ascend socially and politically, and the opportunity to economically prosper. They need never fight against a massive institutional regime, unless they’re members of the LGBTQ community. And even still, there’s no closet for skin color.
Myself and others with Black and Brown skin, are not readily afforded those privileges. We fought for ALL of our rights. They were not handed to us. They were not packaged for us. They were not given to us. We had to TAKE it from them. This very basic and seminal fact creates a sizable disconnect between us and that flag.
So when its burned in the streets of St. Louis, I’m not at all surprised. I don’t know the personal motivations of those protestors who decided to exercise their First Amendment rights, but I would imagine that a portion of their motives encircles disillusionment with the justice and legal systems that flag represents.