R50-70 Shows Meaning of American Flag More Complex

Before you read any further, please know that I, along with many others on this campus, do not agree with what ASUCI Legislative Council did on Thursday. I do, however, believe that their intent was correct and that no one involved was trying to harm the university or its student body in any way. The point of this article is to shed light on what I believe was the impetus behind this legislation and what that means for the university as a whole. Do not misunderstand me: I believe that by passing resolution R50-70, the ASUCI Legislative Council and those behind the legislation, did more harm to the university than good. While the impact of this event cannot be erased, it is still a good exercise to examine the intent behind it and how we can avoid mistakes like this in the future.

From a broad standpoint, the resolution seems to seek an equality and respect for all by banning the American flag, and any other flag or “decorative item” that may cause an “issue,” from the ASUCI main lobby. Note that it is not banning the American flag from the campus. It is asking the ban to apply simply to the ASUCI main lobby, which hardly anyone goes into unless they are associated with ASUCI. It is a small space where only a few people enter, not many of whom probably notice the flag to begin with, which is probably why a majority of the council was fine with allowing this resolution to pass. None of these people, I am guessing, are “anti-American,” but are simply trying to make a space they inhabit on a regular basis into a place of comfort and security for themselves.

But even if we can see the reasoning behind it, we’re still left with the question as to why a group of people felt compelled to write this legislation to begin with. It may have been because they were conscious of a group of students on campus who were offended by the sight of the American flag. It all boils down to the idea that the American flag arguably represents a mixed history of “colonialism and imperialism” along with “liberty” and “democracy” (to quote the words of the resolution), thus is a loaded object. To some it is inspirational, represents everything “good” about this country, and is a testament to the ideals that the men and women of this country have fought and died over. To others, it is a reminder of the bloody history that continues to take place in regions across the world and even within the country and along its borders. As the author of the resolution puts it, the flag is “interpreted differently by different groups or persons based on individual unique experiences.”

And it is true that there are a number of students who blindly worship the flag and the “cultural mythologies and narratives” that surround it, failing to look critically at the history of the United States. It is also true that there is a population of students who have experienced hostility from the United States due to their unique backgrounds, and their sensitivities have not been respected the way they should be.

And then there are a majority of students who are somewhere in between, who can always benefit from learning more (myself included). So we shouldn’t just use this moment to point fingers and call one another “stupid.” This university has undergone constant problems with understanding the diversity of this campus, such as the LTD Blackface episode two years ago and the ‘Irvine 11’ five years ago, among many other smaller incidents. Each of these events are unique in their own way and it is unfair of me to lump them under one umbrella, and I merely do so to emphasize the point that the Irvine campus has constantly shown that it needs a lesson in cultural understanding (along with a VERY extensive and emphatic lesson in “intent vs. impact”) but there has constantly been a failure to create one.

Do I think the six people present at the ASUCI legislative council last Thursday had a (HUGE) moment of oversight? Yes. But simply condemning them does nothing for us. If we want to prove to the country that we’re not just a bunch of snot-nosed brats (which seems to be the universal sentiment as of now), we need to show intelligence, compassion and a desire to change things via understanding which we have not shown before. Don’t just yell — listen, understand and act.

 

Alec Snavely is a fifth-year electrical engineering and English major. He can be reached at asnavely@uci.edu.