This past weekend my neighbor stopped over to talk to me about something as I was putting out our garbage. As he was walking away he said, “Nice flags, you gonna put out a Trump sign now?”
I’ve been thinking about that ever since it happened. The assumptions that were made by me having small US flags in the flower pots that are lining our walkway. I put them there in June, in honor of flag day.
In the web industry we talk a lot about not assuming, being careful about what you think people will and won’t do when it comes to how they will use a site or application you are making. Heck, I’ve even written about it.
I believe that those assumptions are all around us and we do it all day long. Many people call them biases that we have that we need to work hard to recognize. And I regularly catch myself doing it.
A month or so ago I was working in my front yard, not really paying a lot of attention to what was going on around me, until I heard a car stop quickly and looked up. An older man had fallen on the sidewalk down the block and a car of young men had stopped to help him. They helped him up, they were attentive to him, and they made sure he made it into his car OK (yes, I was frightened he was even driving).
But here’s the thing about that entire episode, if I’d seen those three young men walking down the sidewalk I would never have assumed they would stop and be so kind to an older man in distress. I made assumptions about their character based on what they were wearing and their age. I’m not proud of this, but I’m trying to change. Recognizing that I did it is a big part of that.
So when I think about the assumptions we make about people who have an American flag in their yard, I get upset. It’s a difficult year politically in the US and I don’t think it’s going to get any better any time soon. Change is hard, confronting years of difficulty and history that hasn’t been the greatest for a lot of people is hard. But assuming we know what someone thinks or how they vote based on having a flag in their yard isn’t helping us.
John Stewart, in his rebuttal to the RNC last week when he appeared on Stephen Colbert’s show, said this:
This country isn’t yours. You don’t own it. It never was. There is no real America. You don’t own it. You don’t own patriotism. You don’t own Christianity. You sure as hell don’t own respect for the bravery and sacrifice of military, police and firefighters.
I would argue that liberals don’t own it either, we all own it. Patriotism and the way in which we choose to express it or not, is our own. Many people see difficult things when they look at the flag, they see years of oppression and difficult history and it being used as a weapon against them.
When I look at a small flag lining a walkway or in a flower pot I think of two things. First I think of my mom, she pulled out all the stops every year for flag day, flying a large American flag and lining our walkway with smaller versions.
Second, I think of being a little girl and learning the history of my family as I stood next to graves of men I barely knew or didn’t know at all as we placed flowers and a small flag for Memorial Day. They had all served in World War I, my grandfather and his brothers, and I listened as my mom and aunts talked about the people who came before me, the people who are a part of who I am today.
And as I go forward through what is a depressing and difficult year, I’m trying hard to remember that I don’t really know what someone thinks or who they are based on outside visual cues. And that assuming I do usually leads to trouble.