First things first: The flag-related image that I find most offensive is that of Donald Trump hugging, kissing, and fondling the red-white-and-blue symbol of the USA.
That being said, the recent controversy surrounding Nike’s decision to pull a special edition shoe with a 13-star flag on its heel, in response to concerns expressed by activist and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick that the image is offensive and tied to slavery, is both poignant and complex.
Nike’s Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July shoe
There’s a part of me that would like to push back against the usurpation of historic symbols – by hate groups and bigoted individuals – by obscuring whatever meaning they have imbued in the object by using/wearing/waving it myself. But I realize that such action by one 69-year-old Italian American male in Buffalo, New York would have miniscule impact, and might cause further offense, discomfort, and consternation.
So I won’t be lobbying for Nike to liberate the controversial shoe. But I will address hateful symbolism in my South Buffalo neighborhood.
While there may be doubts about whether Betsy Ross – an 18th-century Philadelphia seamstress – actually designed the 13-star flag, there is no uncertainty regarding Colin Kaepernick’s conclusion that the so-called “Betsy Ross flag” is being waved and worn by a segment of our society as a symbol of white supremacy. I’m confident that I have seen evidence supporting that conclusion a mere three blocks from my humble home.
40 Indian Church Rd. (taken by AJG 07-08-2019)
For the past four years, I have observed an ever-changing front porch display at 40 Indian Church Road. The house is situated a short walk from Seneca Street and Cazenovia Park at the northwest corner of Parkview Avenue and Indian Church. While the dark brown, well-kept century-old residence may initially appear welcoming, the occupants’ choice of symbols and words reflect – in my opinion – the sentiments of bigots and white supremacists.
A day or so after the initial national coverage of Nike’s decision to pull its “Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July” shoe, the facade at 40 Indian Church suddenly displayed two large flags: the “Stars and Bars”, which sports three broad stripes and is the first national flag of the Confederate States of America, and the 13-star, 13-stripe “Betsy Ross” flag.
If I had not frquently walked by the corner of Indian Church and Parkview, I might have thought that the flag-hanger was trying to highlight the dissimilar aspects of the two flags, and the fact that they couldn’t be easily mistaken for one another. But I’m well aware of the series of flags and signs at 40 Indian Church Road that have defiled the neighborhood for years. And, I could also see the carefully arranged objects resting between the pair of 3’ by 5’ flags. With that information in hand, I do not hesitate to interpret the “Stars and Bars” and “Betsy Ross flag” display at 40 Indian Church as a glorification of an America where slavery was legal and the federal government’s power was insubstantial.
Nestled amongst the flowers and front-yard knick-knacks on July 8th was/is a cluster of three hand-held flags: the well-known Confederate battle flag (with the red field and diagonal dark blue cross and white stars), the German national flag, and the “Gadsden Flag” – a historical American Revolution flag with a yellow field depicting a coiled rattlesnake and the words “DON’T TREAD ON ME.” [The Gadsden flag is often described as an example of a historic symbol co-opted by groups such as the Tea Party and the white supremacists movement.] There also was/is a choo-choo train weather vane sporting a small Confederate battle flag.
(taken by AJG 07-08-2019)
[Note: I first started noticing the DON’T TREAD ON ME proclamations a number of years ago planted in rural front yards in Wyoming County alongside anti-Obama, “Repeal the Safe Act” and anti-Cuomo signs.]
As I wrote here about two years ago [see https://withallduerespectblog.com/2017/08/21/buffalo-must-address-homegrown-bigotry/], 40 Indian Church Road and its pro-Confederacy displays are situated diagonally across the street from BEREA Church of God in Christ (C.O.G.I.C.) and its predominantly non-white attendees. Although it is no longer in sight, there was a period of time when a sign with an image of cross-hairs unambiguously proclaimed, “WARNING – IF YOU CAN READ THIS, YOU ARE IN RANGE,” reinforcing the aggressive message of the multiple Confederate and “DON’T TREAD ON ME” flags.
(taken by AJG Aug. 2017)
As recently as May 2019, 40 Indian Church Road simultaneously flaunted three large Confederate flags: the Confederate battle flag, the “Blood Stained Banner” (the third national flag of the Confederacy), and the “Stars and Bars.”
(taken by AJG 05-02-2019)
A month-and-a-half earlier, a Confederate battle flag and flag of Germany were joined by a banner that frequently is on display at 40 Indian Church Road, a Texas “COME AND TAKE IT” flag with a white field, a black star, and the silhouette of an M4 AR15 machine gun. This defiant proclamation is an updated version of a flag used in 1831, at the first battle of the Texas Revolution against Mexico, which contained the phrase “Come And Take It” and depicted a black star and a small cannon.
(taken by AJG 03-20-2019)
When not displaying Confederate flags, or co-opting provocative symbols from the past, the residents of 40 Indian Church Road have expressed their support for an individual viewed by many as a racist and white supremacist, Donald J. Trump:
(taken by AJG 10-24-2016)
I have chosen not to interact with the residents at 40 Indian Church Road when I walk or bicycle by. I’m not particularly proud of that fact, but I don’t see myself as the appropriate person to initiate a meaningful discussion. But it would be fascinating to hear a conversation between Colin Kaepernick and the folk who live at 40 Indian Church Road on the issues raised by “the Nike controversy.” Or, on a more practical level, it might be a useful step forward if a community leader were to reach out and facilitate a discussion between the person or persons who “speak” through the flags displayed at 40 Indian Church Road and the leaders and churchgoers at BEREA C.O.G.I.C.
With All Due Respect,
P.S. I wonder if this is a topic that could be raised with the organizers of the 100th Year Centennial celebration promoted in the banner currently above the church’s front door: