Professor Complains About Feeling ‘Anxiety’ When He Sees the American Flag

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

Sometimes I can’t tell if those on the hard left are as neurotic as they seem, or whether they just engage in hysterics as a way to virtue signal. This is one of those stories that makes it hard to discern. Milwaukee NPR station WUWM host Teran Powell published a podcast interview with Marquette University Philosophy professor Grant Silva on Flag Day, in which they discussed the meaning of the American flag today.

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Both Powell and Silva expressed anxiety towards the American flag due to what they perceive as excessive imagery signifying an affinity toward nationalism. Silva said he believes that the flag can represent exclusion for some individuals, particularly non-white people, who may feel a sense of perpetual outsider status unless they conform to certain expectations in order to assimilate.

Powell wrote:

While some see the American Flag as a symbol of freedom for all – others, like some people of color — struggle with a connection to that symbol due to their experiences in the United States.

For example, I’m Black American, and over the past few years, I’ve continued to analyze what the American Flag means to me. Especially considering the growth in extremism post-Trump-presidency and those extremists using the American Flag against people of color to say they’re the real Americans.

During a road trip with my friend to another friend’s wedding in Springfield, Illinois, we stopped for gas in this small town where American Flags lined businesses along the street we were driving down.

“And both of us were like, “Yeah, we need to hurry up and leave. And I thought about it like, ‘why did we feel like that?'” Powell says.

Black people for generations have dealt with tension with the American flag. Our feelings were nothing new.

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Silva echoed Powell’s sentiments, noting that he had similar stories related to the American flag. He recounted a time when he was traveling to his grandfather-in-law’s home and saw some problematic material at a gas station along the way.

“I remember seeing stickers that said something similar to like ‘Immigrant Hunting License,’ and it had like a target and the image of people crossing — like the sign, the signage that they use to signify that people may be crossing a border like family, a family crossing,” the professor said.

“That kind of imagery, pointing a gun at these individuals, and I remember thinking as a Mexican American, how safe am I in this particular gas station when this signage like this — these are stickers being sold, right?” he continued.

The professor continued, expressing his feelings about the American flag, saying that he gets “a little bit anxious around the excessive imagery of the flag” because “in [his] experience, patriotism quickly slips into nationalism.”

“Especially the simplistic version of patriotism, the flag waving, my country love it or leave it kind of attitude. That is just a hop, skip and a jump away from becoming nationalism,” Silva said.

He concluded:

As much as I would like to see the flag displayed in a proud manner, it all too quickly takes on the stakes that, as a non-white person, can mean a lot, right? It can mean a sense of inclusion or exclusion. A sense of belonging or the ascription of perpetual foreigner, perpetual outsider status; that that flag is not for me unless I’m willing to abide by the assimilatory paradigm that some of these individuals that you’re talking about tend to put forward.

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The American flag is an iconic symbol that continually evokes certain emotions and interpretations among American citizens. People hold diverse perspectives towards America and her history. However, if one takes a holistic and nuanced view of American society in the present, there is no valid reason to feel anxiety when folks display Old Glory – even for nonwhites.

People like Powell and Silva argue that anxiety towards the American flag stems from a fear of embracing the nation’s past mistakes and ongoing struggles. They contend that the way society treats them based on their ethnicity or nationality makes the American flag issue more complex. Indeed, as a black man, I have reflected on this as well – I wrote a piece about it two years ago on Independence Day that sums up how I feel about it.

It is crucial to acknowledge that the flag represents not only historical blemishes but also the remarkable progress achieved in terms of racial equality. The flag has witnessed the civil rights movement, the dismantling of forced segregation, and the rise of leaders who have fought for inclusivity and justice. We can acknowledge the past blemishes and current problems without pretending that America has not evolved over the years.

Regrettably, if we take Powell and Silva at their words, they are allowing a symbol to cause them anxiety when it shouldn’t. Yes, Silva’s experience at that gas station was troubling. But guess what? This is America. You don’t have to give folks your money, if you do not wish to support them. I’d never support a business that expressed anti-black views. And you know what? I wouldn’t feel an ounce of anxiety from seeing the American flag as a result. Instead of allowing a symbol reflecting good and bad history cause anxiety, perhaps it would make more sense to consider how we can continue making progress in this country.

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