All posts by kwiatekbeth

A white woman interested in changing the conversation, and much more.

The American Flag: Part I

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    “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag — if they do, there must be consequences  — perhaps loss of citizenship or a year in jail.”

Tweet by President Donald Trump 

     Last year when my child was in fifth grade the Daughters of the American Revolution sponsored a lesson and essay contest titled  What the Flag of the United States Means to Me. He also received a paper booklet named The Flag Code which states the directions for displaying and respecting the flag.  

     The essay was a required assignment. He wrote his essay without any help.  I had no idea what he would write as I had never had a conversation with my kid about the flag; nor do we have a flag flying in our home.  He received an A- grade; and on the paper his teacher wrote, “great insight” and “nicely written”.  I had to laugh.  Part of his essay reads:

     “The flag of the USA determines the power in this country.  It shows 50 individual, powerful determined states, ready to make a change.  It shows 50 categories of inspiring people, ready for anything that comes at them, in the present or in the future, no matter what the sacrifices are.  It shows how powerful a country could be.  How strong people could be if they work together until the end.  It shows that no matter your color,  race, or gender, you can come here.”

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He didn’t win the essay contest but he did get a participation award!

     This assignment has elements of propaganda and hypocrisy.  The education and promotion of our flag without any kind of contextual or historical lesson is simplistic, uncritical and insincere. It forwards the idea that flying the flag unto itself is an act: an act of patriotism, an act of obligation, or an act of freedom.   And, not doing so is an act of disregard, disobedience, and reproach.  The politics of flying the flag has been reduced to the “you are either with us or against” binary which is typical of western thinking. 

     Lots of flags were flown in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. One could easily argue that doing so was nothing more than a meaningless, empty, gesture.

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What is the Purpose of a National Flag?

     A national flag is the flag that symbolizes a country and its citizens.  It has its origins as a field sign in battle, or as a military standard representing a principality, suzerainty, or dynasty. Outside of warfare the flag became common in the age of sail, as a maritime flag indicating the provenance of the ship. It was during the modern era  (1500 B.C.E. to 1800 C.E.)  when nation-state boundaries were being drawn that flags were adopted in a civilian and cultural context. The American flag and colors comes from the ensign of the Continental Navy of the North American Colonies.

     Simply stated, the purpose of a national flag is to identify national identities.  It is a global sign. Kind of like the “Stop” sign or the “Olympic Rings”.  

     Our nation’s flag protection movement began in 1897 with the adoption of Flag Desecration Statutes. This movement began as reaction to perceived commercial and political misuse of the flag.        

 WAIT…WHAT?

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     By 1907 flag desecration laws were promulgated in every state. And in 1942 President Roosevelt approved the “Federal Flag Code” which was when the Pledge of Allegiance was adopted as well. The contentious debate as to whether or not flag defacement and irreverence is an expression of free speech began in earnest during the Vietnam War and ended in the 1990’s when the The Supreme Court ruled twice that destruction of the American flag is protected by the Constitution, specifically the First Amendment’s protection of free speech. 

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The National Socialist Movement Flag

     Clearly for our current president, the act of defacing our national flag is unsettling. But only in some contexts and unless you are one of his supporters.  Then it is an act of patriotism. 

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The Little Golden Books Stay White

The “I” is Always White

     The fifth incarnation of the “Everything I Need to Know About…I Learned From A Little Golden Book” series by longtime Golden Books editor Diane Muldrow is  available.

     From Amazon: “Have you ever wished your family were a little more . . . perfect? The brand that most represents idyllic perfection actually confirms that there is no such thing. But it does show that joy and love can be found in the imperfect!”

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The books can be found in book stores, department stores, and gift shops.  Including the self-help section at B & N.

 

     My purpose here is to make visible what is invisible: the unspoken assumption that the world is white and everyone in it is white. That “I” and “We” are white.  The writer is white; the reader is assumed to be white; and the cultural and historical references and images are for white people.  More importantly, it is expected that African-Americans, Native-Americans, Asian-Americans, Middle and East Indian-Americans, and all other non-white Americans can and should relate.

     Like her previous “Everything I Need to Know…” books, Muldrow borrows illustrations from vintage books and adds her own words of wisdom and insight.  It begins with an image of the “perfect family” and our collective desire for one: 

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     There are sixty-nine images in total.  Twenty are of furry creatures.  Five are of non-whites.  There is one of a light brown-skinned sleeping baby — which is actually quite sweet — taken from the book Prayers for Children, 1974 . A Hispanic child and baby are taken from Baby Sister, 1986. A charming classroom picture from We Like Kindergarten, 1965, illustrated by Eloise Wilkens, once considered “the soul of Golden Books”, includes a smartly-dressed black boy.  The South Seas Island girl, Ukulele, from Ukulele and Her New Doll, is pictured eating with her family.  (She and her family are lighter-skinned than their 1951 counterparts.) And lastly, there is a colorful drawing of a brown father and child. The only non-Golden Book image; probably added for the sake of posterity. 

     I am sure Little Golden Books is not consciously trying to re-write history.  Nor would they argue that America belongs to white people.  But, if they believe that this book, with its images of a white-remembered and longed-for past does not make a statement, then they are sadly mistaken. 

      As I wrote earlier, the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s were difficult and painful times for many Americans, but mostly for non-white Americans: segregated armed forces, Jim Crow, Indian Schools, overt educational and housing discrimination, forced resettlement of non-white cultures, and many other prejudices. Not to mention their absence of representation in politics and other positions of power and authority. Times continue to be difficult for non-whites. Racism, prejudice, and discrimation still exist. 

Again, Memory Lane for Whom?

     “Everything I Need To Know I Learned From A Little Golden Book is so overwhelmingly white-centered it pains the eye and pierces the soul of the millions of us who cannot, will not, claim that level of unconsciousness.”

Alexis DeVeaux

     This book is for white-Americans only.  For it is their imagined past that is getting re-written, glorified, and made nostalgic.  That is  why white Americans gobble this book up. 

     Nothing in this book is true or compelling. It is exclusionary.  It is about who is inside and who is outside.  It contributes to the cultural climate and the belief that real Americans are white.  

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Why else was President Obama’s citizenhship questioned?

The Little Golden Book is White

The “I” is White

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     Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Little Golden Book by Diane Muldrow is a New York Times best seller. The book offers life lessons reduced to simple maxims: “Is your life starting to feel like a circus? Don’t panic…today is a new day!” Illustrations from  Little Golden Books created between the years of 1942 to 1963 capture the spirit of the advice. The Pokey Little Puppy reminds us “to stop and smell the strawberries” and Tootle the Train demands that we “Frolic!” Favorite classic images instruct you to “Treat yourself” and “Kiss”.       

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     Admirers of the Little Golden Books – the cardboard books with the gold foil spine – claim that the books have been uplifting people since World War II and that they still have much to teach. Muldrow reminds her readers that “our country has faced hard times of late.” She proclaims, “The chickens have come home to roost, and their names are Debt, Depression, and Diabetes.”

“Who is this book really for?”

     There are seventy-eight illustrations in the book; thirty-eight have pictures of people. Of those thirty-eight, only two images include non-whites: Black folks are religious, right?

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Memory Lane for Whom?

     “Everything I Need To Know I Learned From A Little Golden Book is so overwhelmingly white-centered it pains the eye and pierces the soul of the millions of us who cannot, will not, claim that level of unconsciousness.”

Alexis DeVeaux

     The 1940’s, 50’s, 60’s were difficult and painful times for many Americans, but especially for African-Americans. Between those years over forty black men and women were lynched, Jim Crow law in the south was legal, and until 1964 blacks were denied the fundamental right to vote. The armed services were  desegregated in 1948 and schools were desegregated in 1954. But African-American soldiers and students still faced violence, bullying, or insult.

     Other non-white cultures and identities were vilified, ignored, or made invisible. Japanese-Americans went from citizens to enemies. Native American children were forcibly sent to “Indian Schools” while their families were relocated to urban areas. Latinos, with the exception of saucy actresses and Desi Arnaz, were largely ignored. And, Puerto Rico was a colony with limited self-government.

     A friend who is black, over fifty, and prefers to remain anonymous said, “As an individual, I do not see myself or my experiences in this book… I am not to the point of hating it, but it has nothing to say to me”.

     Reviews of the book read like glowing advertisements. The Huffington Post writes: “Offers simple advice that is also very wise.” Publishers Weekly declares: “An optimistic and cheering trip down memory lane”. And the School Library Journal states “A fun and entertaining walk down memory lane.”

     It scares me to know that this book was so well received by the white American public and was such a hit that the author was able to publish a series – a series that seems never ending.