By Robert Gregg
I listened to a radio program about the Charlottesville, VA attack and the resurgence of hate groups. A caller asked “what can I as a White person do to help Blacks on these issues and show solidarity?” The African-American guest expert then answered about what Whites could do to help Blacks with this problem.
The exchange concerned me. The whole premise of the question and the “expert’s” answer was that this was indeed a “Black problem,” in which concerned Whites could help and show “solidarity.” However, it was not a problem for Whites. It was not an American problem, of grave concern for all Americans who value their own freedom and Constitution, and right to live in a democratic society, rather than a Nazi, religiously and racially repressed and hateful country. It was not “our problem” as a whole country.
The caller and the guest expert continued to foster a narrow-minded “we-they” focus; even if it was with the best of intentions.
Only when we recognize that every American and our entire society is at risk for all of us can we be effective. It is not how can I help “those people.” Rather, the issue is how can I step forward to protect and improve my own society, and my own American democracy and freedoms for all of us. We need to recognize that all of us have a deeply vested interest.
Our American Flag is a “We.” Our national symbols are not a “They.” Our Flag and symbols do not belong to any one group, one political party, nor the national government. They belong to US as a people.
I am concerned by the calls to not stand and honor the Flag and National Anthem. I listened to an African-American sports figure who asked that White athletes join him in not standing for the Flag or Anthem to show solidarity. Just as the prior caller and guest expert, this fosters the view that it is all a “Black problem” (or at least a “minority problem”) in which others can show support – but it is not a problem for all Americans. Both the caller, the guest expert, and the sports figure are doing a good job of “segregating the problem,” in a way that all the rest of Americans can feel it is “your” problem – not OURS. They can “give support,” but do not have to be personally invested.
While I support and participate in the imperative to actively protest the tragic shooting of unarmed persons of color and other blatant or institutional acts of discrimination, I believe we should not cede our most cherished symbols to those who, by their actions, demean them. I believe in the right of those who do not stand for the Flag to exercise freedom of expression, and know they are sincere. Though it may be a sincere expression, not honoring the Flag and Anthem is unwise and ill-conceived. It serves to hand the flag and “being American” over to the hate groups.
The American Flag stands for the ideals of freedom and equality and liberty. We have never fully achieved those, but it is our symbol that we strive to do so. The overwhelming
majority of all Americans believe in this principle, as can be seen by the overwhelming public
reaction against hate groups following Charleston and Charlottesville.
The flags of the hate groups are the swastika, the Confederate flag, and other hate
symbols. That is their identity. If we, as liberty-loving Americans, reject the American Flag and
Anthem, we then turn it over to them. Since we are not claiming it – they can. The hate groups
can claim to own the American Flag as their symbol – since it has been rejected by those who
oppose them. They gain power through embracing our rejected symbols.
Instead, those who oppose hatred, tyranny, discriminatory and abusive practices by hate
groups or by parts of our government, should embrace the Flag. We must make it our symbol.
We should own it. We do own it – and should make that clear. We should carry it high and in
abundance at every rally or march. We are the Americans. We should stand proudly and sing
It is the haters, the intolerant, the oppressors, who should be ashamed to stand for the
Flag and the Anthem. Yet we are in danger of rejecting the symbol of what we seek to achieve,
and turn it over to the other side; give them the high ground.
I cannot participate in not standing for or honoring our Flag. I believe that most
Americans agree with that principle and will also distance themselves from individuals or
organizations which espouse that rejection of Flag and anthem and will be reluctant to show
support or cooperation. Those who espouse the rejection will find that they have further
“segregated the problem,” so that other Americans see it as “your problem” – not as “our issues
I have for many years devoted myself to achieving the ideal of America even in some of
the most problematic and conflicted times. I have seen the Flag and Anthem as representing the
ideals to be restored and achieved. This is the time to embrace those symbols as OURS and
vigorously and abundantly display them in the fight by all Americans against hatred, bigotry and
Bob Gregg is a U.S. Army veteran. He was a founding staff member of the Department
of Defense Race Relations Institute, served as an EEO/Equal Rights Officer and has developed
and implemented anti-discrimination regulations, practices, and policies nationally. He is a
member of the American Association for Access Equity and Diversity, Wisconsin Association
for Equal Opportunity, and served on the Board of Directors of the DOD Equal Opportunity
Management Institute Foundation. This commentary is his personal opinion and does not reflect
the view of any of those organizations.