An Open Letter

As many of you know, I own an American Flag, the first that I have ever bought, and it is hanging in my living room, “upside down”. For an explanation as to why, *follow this link*. I have just come back from my travels with friends, and to my surprise, I found my flag flipped, to be “right side up”.  This is an open letter to the person who did that, and the reason this is public is because I believe we can all learn from this.

Dear White Male,

There are two levels to this offense. I am quite surprised, and not, that you had the audacity to come into a home not yours, my home, and take my flag, to which I have every right to call my own and possess, take it down from how it hung and do with it as you thought fit, as you saw right. There are two levels to what you did. I will address the personal one first.

It is actually quite extraordinary that you did this. You came into another persons home, a home where you are welcome, and thought it appropriate, in my absence and the absence of two others who live in the house, to touch a flag that does not belong to you, though it is the flag of our county as you are her citizen, and flip it from how it hung. Now imagine if I one day entered your home, saw your American Flag hanging, and be it in your presence or not, brought it down, and flipped it. How dare you think it is in your right to do what you want in the house of another. This is not your home. You may disagree with how I display my flag, and actually, part of the purpose of the flag is to promote discourse, but that does not make it less mine or remotely yours.  What you did was a grave offense, a personal offense. You would be furious if I did this in your home, without consent. The offense would be so dire that I cannot imagine myself being welcome in your home, regardless of my intentions. If the flag made you so uncomfortable, you could have left. This is why it is so extraordinary. Yet a part of me is not surprised.

The second point is addressing the bigger picture. I wonder what it was that compelled you to do this. Did you feel patriotic? Did you feel as if you did our country a favor? Did you expect me to see it and accept your action as a moral imperative – as a lesson as to how I should treat MY flag?

I have yet to speak to you about this, but to be honest, a large part of me has no interest in hearing your justification. Because I can already fathom why it was you did what you did. If you thought this patriotic – this is the most unpatriotic thing you could have done. Must I remind you that I too am American. I was born in the United States. I am as American as you, and as an American, we are supposedly endowed with the right to express our patriotism as we see fit. When you flipped the flag, what you said was “Nico, or whomever this flags belongs to, you are not as American, or even American, as I”. If not, that is what I heard. Why? Is it the color of my skin? Is it the “Ghetto” vernacular I use? The accents of my parents? What makes your claim to our flag more legitimate than mine? Probably your white skin, as we know that all others who are not white have never been seen as American. Our skin color gives us the hyphen, the (in)visible mark of the wretched, the unwanted, the less human, the lives that don’t and never mattered.

In this you are wrong. I am American.

But what else is troubling is that if you thought that my flag was in some way offensive to our country, to our people, our history, you must be basking in willful blindness, but that is something I can understand. See, the fundamental difference between you and I, and the reason that I addressed this “Dear White Male”, is that when I see the flag, I do not only see a country I love and ideas that I value, but I see the devastation that has come with it. Under its red soaked stripes and under the stars as witnesses, things have been done in the name of the American flag that are too horrific to utter without despair. Genocide, Colonization, Racism, Sexism, I can go on, but I am not here to educate you. You can do that on your own. That is part of the reason my flag hung as it did. It was to recognize the space that I must negotiate everyday. To try and reconcile the fact that the country I love does not love us both in the same way, that it does not, and never has, loved me.

How can you address this small, yet significant grievance against me? The first is to apologize, but as I have come to learn, the road to decolonizing the mind and breaking down the structures that made you believe you were in your full right to do as you saw fit is not peaceful or without struggle, thus an apology does not suffice. The only way I see that you can successfully communicate to me that you recognize the harm you have committed is to return to my home and flip the flag upside down again, to its original state. Anything less only tells me you do not understand what I, and countless others, have tried to tell you (and those like you) for 229 years.

Because, see, as this is not only a piece of cloth to you, it is not only a piece of cloth to me. It is my flag, the flag of my country.

Signed,

Nicolas Alberto Montano Carabjal, US Citizen, Born in Suffern, New York, March 13 1992

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