Flags are symbolic, aren’t they. We humans get emotional over symbols, and we certainly do about flags. In many parts of the world, the national flag is something to be treated with respect. If it is torn, dirtied, damaged or (heaven forbid) deliberately destroyed by someone who despises what it stands for, then we get extremely upset.
Earlier this year, for example, the Confederate flag was the subject of much pain and heartache – as it has been over decades, as a symbol of slavery. A woman activist climbed a flagpole in Columbia, South Carolina a few months ago and took down the flag, the week after nine African Americans were murdered by a white racist who revered it. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley subsequently called for the flag’s removal, saying that while it was an important part of South Carolina’s past, it “does not represent the future of our great state.”
In the UK flags have become an issue in recent years, symbolizing the schizophrenic nature of modern Britain. The Union Jack, representing the United Kingdom, is not only replaced by the English flag (St. George’s Cross) at sporting events, where appropriate. It is often used by extreme right-wing nationalist groups such as the English Defence League; the message is “England for the English” – keep out foreigners, including immigrants of course as well as the Scottish, Welsh and Irish. Speaking of the Irish, in Northern Ireland flags have been one of the toils of division in its turbulent history, splitting the populace along sectarian (religious) lines.
Sometimes I wish flags would remain a thing of the past. As historical symbols, they are fine. But they should not define the future. I have problems with the flag obsession. Flags are often used in ways that are less than desirable. They inflame passions, create divisions, and take on a life of their own; they are often more than mere symbols.
I was furious (yes, furious) today to see, as we drove along Mountain View Avenue, a fresh crop of political flags attached to light posts along half the length of the very long road: orange for the People’s National Party (PNP) “territory,” green for the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) enclaves. This is after, just a few days earlier and not too far away, two Jamaicans were murdered in Newlands, a section of Portmore in St. Catherine, after one woman, Sadie Forbes, a 44-year-old PNP activist, allegedly became angered by a JLP flag posted near her gate and took it down. She was killed, and another man killed in retaliation – or so the rumor goes, although many aspects of the murders have not been confirmed. Political tensions are now high in the area, and the political representatives were summoned to a meeting with our new Political Ombudswoman Donna Parchment Brown. Was this all started by a piece of colored cloth?
I hurriedly took photos on my cell phone from the car as we drove along Mountain View this afternoon. My husband was anxious that someone would see us and confront us, so I took the photos almost “undercover.” The quality of the photos I took is, therefore, not good. But you get the picture. I was told also that there are political flags in Mona Commons, near the University Hospital of the West Indies; the entire town of Lucea, Hanover; and along the main road between Negril and Lucea. I understand the Hanover flags are due to a political rally there this evening; men were seen climbing trees to hang flags, today. Will they be taken down afterwards?
Why should decent residents in less wealthy areas (you never see political flags in the wealthier uptown areas of Kingston) put up with
But then again, our orange and green flags do in fact represent something. Something very sad and destructive: The political tribalism and “garrisonization” of Jamaica, which has made a mockery of our democracy. This is a travesty, and if Donna Parchment Brown does her job well, these flags must be taken down, and remain down.
These are flags of division. We don’t need that.