Michael Eric Dyson on Betsy Ross Flag Symbolism: ‘Why Don’t We Wear a Swastika for July Fourth?’


This post is by Caleb Howe from Mediaite


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The controversial decision by Nike to cancel production of a shoe emblazoned with the Betsy Ross American flag has elicited several days of animated discourse, in approbation or opprobrium, depending on the audience. On MSNBC on Wednesday, Georgetown professor and New Republic writer Michael Eric Dyson, a regular on the network, spoke with anchor Hallie Jackson on the topic and related the flag to other symbols of hate such as the Nazi swastika and burning crosses. After a report outlining the controversy to date, anchor Jackson asked Dyson, “can you explain why this particular flag, this symbol, is so offensive to some?” “Well it hails from the Revolutionary period, of course, of this nation’s founding, which was deeply embroiled in, you know, enslavement, of the owners of slaves, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and the like,” Dyson began. “But also it’s the recent use of this flag that has most opprobrious. Right-wing white supremacists have used it as a rallying cry for their own cause.” “And none of these flags are kind of set in stone, right?” said Dyson. “It’s depending upon the culture in which you live, the moral ecology of the time.” “So right now, this flag has been used by people who want to pummel African Americans, Latinx, Jews and other people. Neo-nazis who want to claim they have the true copyright on American identity,” he explained. “So why not choose a flag that is representative of everybody? The diversity of identities, ideologies, and people of color and mainstream people who happen to exist in this country?” “That’s the kind of blow-back against the use of this particular flag,” he said. “What do you make of those who say, listen, why let those sort of right-wing white supremacists groups win? Why not reclaim will flag, if you will,” asked Jackson. “That would be beautiful,” Dyson replied. “I don’t hear anything coming from the right about that. I don’t hear them going, hey, this is not — we believe—” “And you think the onus is on the right do that?” Jackson interjected. “Well, yeah, because the left is responding. They’re saying this is problematic. They’re giving their interpretation,” he said. Dyson said like Confederacy lost the war but won the interpretation battle, this is likewise about who gets to define how it is interpreted, calling it a war for the “collective mindset of America.” “But the reality is this flag has represented something that is offensive and opprobrious, and if people want to reclaim it, then do so,” he said. He said that though people claim Confederate statues are about education, he doesn’t hear anyone using them for that purpose or reclaiming the meaning. “Were that to occur, it would be great. It just hasn’t happened.” Jackson asked him about people bringing up “PC culture run amok” and saying if Nike wants this flag on their shoe, why not just let them do it. “Words matter, symbols matter too,” said Dyson. “Why don’t we wear a swastika for July Fourth? Because I don’t know, it makes a difference. The cross burning on somebody’s lawn, why don’t we just have a Nike, you know, celebration of the cr–well because those symbols are symbols of hate.” “So at this point, I think people need to be honest and say it’s not a matter of PC. There are many people within communities of color who understand complexity, complication, you can’t have it the way you want it,” said Dyson. “But something so glaring and apparent, that has to be dealt with.” Watch the clip above, courtesy of MSNBC.

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