Opinion | How I Finally Managed to Connect to the American Flag

However, I had a change of heart a few weeks back. It was not a dramatic or particularly political moment. It made me reevaluate the meaning we give to symbols of political power and how fluid that meaning is, no matter how ingrained.The epiphany occurred during a routine dog walking (an activity that has resulted in more than one epiphany). As I was walking in a predominantly white neighborhood of Los Angeles, there were many American flags on display as I approached the Fourth of July. Normaly, I cringe inwardly at the sight or sigh out loud. For some reason, this time I didn't see authority. Flags of cloth floated from a pole. The proud triumphalism of the stars & stripes had disappeared, leaving behind only husks.I looked up and saw it was a mistake. As I continued walking, I saw more flags hanging from the eaves, digging into lawns and printed on pleated bunting. They conveyed nothing. I felt as if I had pulled back the curtain on the evil Wizard of Oz to find a simple, everyday man trying to manage a business he could not sustain and that he didn't have the right business setting up. The American flag, which was so fearsome, had suddenly given up the ghost.The change seemed sudden, but I soon realized that it was a process that had been going on for many years. The MAGA fire of Donald Trump's presidency elevated what I had always considered white-supremacist symbolism to absurd new heights. The flag was the most popular emoji for Trumpsters. It was also carried with the Confederate flag by insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol Jan. 6, in an attempt to overthrow a legitimate election. Old Glory was unable to withstand this. The flag fell in my eyes under the weight of right-wing delusions regarding stolen elections, as well as critical race theory, and the purpose of democracy. It couldn't withstand the hysteria and hatred of white nationalists, or the anger of dissenters such as me. It didn't have the heart to do either of these jobs. It appeared to have given up.The inanimate object instantly stirred emotions in me, and oddly, a sense of empathy that I had never experienced before. It was the first time I liked it. It was easy to identify with. Like many others, the object is tired. Over hundreds of years it has been claimed and exploited, laden with oppressive racial meanings that it didn't want and couldn't bear. It has been subject to the will of self-styled patriots, who have long conjured whiteness with nationality, dominance and democratic ideals. It was not the object's true meaning. It only performed its job because America hasn't given it another. It doesn't necessarily want the job or approve of it.Many people, especially Black people, feel alienated from their flag. They believe it cannot be neutral even though it exists in an inanimate state. The 50 states are represented by the stars and stripes. They represent the turbulent history of the original colonies, which were rich in slave labor. This helped to build the country's wealth, as well as the destruction of Native Americans caused by statehood, everywhere from Mississippi to Hawaii. This is why it has been so difficult for all Americans to accept the flag and make them theirs: It was someone else's from the beginning.It was not something I expected to accept. I wasn't in the habit to try. That was the power of that moment on the dog walk: I wasn't trying and the flags symbolism had already been stolen so blatantly, it really felt strained and broken. The flag was a way of allowing me to fail, and I found intimacy I had never imagined possible. I felt for the flag. I am a Black woman who has had to deal with symbolism and representation from others without permission. It can be difficult to let go of that symbolism even if you fail at it.The epiphany was welcome, but it is not the end of anything. It is only the beginning. Although the flag may have left its job, it must do something else to realize its full potential. We are at least now on the same page, sharing a common quest for an American meaning that we can all agree on and share. On my daily walks around town, I recognize the flag as a friend or intimate, even though it is not a close friend. It's better to see it as the enemy than that.