The Flag in the Song is the Flag I Saw Today

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Editor’s Note:
By now millions of words and hundreds of thousands of pictures have been shared about the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. No doubt, those words and images have elicited a broad range of emotions among people around the globe. The Chicago Reporter is pleased and proud to present one of those reactions, unfiltered by editing, from a former Chicagoan who has a new appreciation and understanding of the meaning of the U.S. flag.

Lady Gaga sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the inauguration of Joe Biden, and Kamala Harris today. She sings the lyrics, “that our flag was still there”, and motions toward the flag on the Capital. For the first time in my and many people’s lifetime, that line has tangible meaning.  On American soil, in the place where congressional legislative work is done, an attack was attempted, and failed, to defeat democracy.  Lives were lost, but many more were saved due to heroic actions made by citizens who were just doing their job. At the end of it all, our flag was still there.  Interrupted, and endangered earlier, lawmakers returned to continue the count and certification of the presidential election results from the electoral college. Their work, at the will of the people, continued into the early hours of the next morning.

So, I was happier in hearing that line, and as proud as I’ve ever been to see the flag…but that’s today!

My relationship with the flag isn’t a simple one.

I am a retired executive of government service.  I have an identity with the flag due to the extraordinary opportunity I’ve had serving the country as a civilian.  It is quite an honor and privilege.

I am also a Black man in America.  My personal experiences along with those of many other Black folks (people of color) in this country has led me to not really care so much about the flag.  I respect it for the values it represents, but I also see a history and dark side of that same flag that isn’t always acknowledged, rooted in pain (racism, violence). I’ve watched appropriate protests during the national anthem that has resulted in attacks of both those that chose to kneel, and to a much lesser degree but still divisive, those that chose to stand.

I understand both decisions.  I don’t believe it’s appropriate to vilify either.  I personally don’t believe that I would choose to kneel, but my circumstances are uniquely mine, and I can’t make an assessment or proclamation of the entirety of someone else’s character based on what their decision is.  Their choice, and others not only respecting that choice, but protecting that choice, are truly the things this country stands for, that it purportedly stands for.  It is notable, however, that most of the social discussion on the matter is not in congruence with that.

So back to that flag.  On any other day, hearing the song, seeing the flag wouldn’t have had the significance that it did for me today.  But today it gave me hope.  I truly believe that Donald Trump’s attack of democratic norms, courtship of racist messages and organizations, and partisan support of him despite his actions previously described was something this country would not be able to recover from in my lifetime had he been re-elected. Most Americans agreed.  We were not at the bottom yet.

Today, I have hope.  This country needs to heal.  This country needs to build muscle after it heals.  It must grow beyond the shadows cast upon it because of its near and distant past, or more bluntly, it’s blatant and covert racist institutions. Today represents an opportunity to go in the opposite direction of where we’ve been heading.  Biden and Harris, as do all of us, have a lot of work to do. Today, hope, and the flag from the song I saw today, matters.

Maurice J. Hoffman is a Washington, D.C. area resident.