Flagging Us Down the Road

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.

Bree Newsome takes down the Confederate Flag from a pole at the Statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina, June 27, 2015. REUTERS/Adam Anderson Photo
Bree Newsome takes down the Confederate Flag from a pole at the Statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina, June 27, 2015. REUTERS/Adam Anderson Photo

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.”

The extreme right-wing, anti-immigrant English Defence League use the English flag (St. George's Cross) in all their demonstrations. (Photo: David Hoffman)
The extreme right-wing, anti-immigrant English Defence League uses the English flag (St. George’s Cross) in all its demonstrations. (Photo: David Hoffman)

 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.

Were Sadie Forbes (left) and
Were Sadie Forbes and Jermaine Vassell killed because of political tensions created by flags? 

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.

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20 thoughts on “Flagging Us Down the Road

  1. Political tribalism…….so destructive and we here on Grenada see the same….but so much “copy-cat” mentality and no knowledge about the real issues. Thank-you for your posts..sadly we think of those killed standing up for their rights….

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    1. Wow, I did not know it was a problem in Grenada too. You are right, no one is focusing on the issues – these things get in the way. I really appreciate your comments, Barb! Thank you. Grenada is such a wonderful island – I was there two years ago for two weeks, working on the BirdsCaribbean conference at St George’s University.

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  2. Flags have lots of meaning, positive and negative, and obviously have ‘value’ as a rallying point (literally), e.g. when Japanese tour guides wave them (or similar symbols, like umbrellas, so that their charges don’t get lost or go astray). In many parts of the Caribbean, flags are for festivities, e.g. Trinidad at Carnival time. Elections are in the festive bag, in many jurisdictions, so expect flags (like them or not).

    Interestingly, driving through St Mary last week, I saw many flags of both green and orange draped on the same light poles. Was that some symbol of bipartisan agreement? We people too lazy or tired or uncaring to rip down one, while placing another?

    This mooring, while walking my dog, I saw strip of green cloth festooned all over the grass. My interest was more than a little piqued, and went to see what they symbolised. With a smile, I saw empty cans of Heineken beer sitting in plastic bags, waiting to be hauled away. The bunting (no capital B) had blown away from they various banner flags that had been put up by the event sponsor.

    Then there is the whole Jamaican matter of what orange (or red) and green (or bells) symbolise and at that point I pause and look at Emma’s wonderful recent ‘statement of support’ against violence against women, flying the ‘orange the world’ campaign motif as part of her current avatar. While not strictly a flag, it serves a similar purpose (and in Jamaica, is not surprisingly confused with the colour of the ruling party). Should she take it down? Discuss 🙂

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    1. I think one party puts up a flag and the other puts theirs – perhaps showing that that particular community is “bipartisan”! Yes. Well, in your neighborhood and mine, you would not see political flags, only the party ones. We live in a different world, very different. Yes, I was determined to use the orange somewhere online, since the global campaign was “Orange Your Neighborhood” (hmmm) or Orange the World. As I think I mentioned, there was quite a debate about the color in Jamaica, and the demonstration I attended in HWT was purple all the way. Jamaican women were very much divided on the “color issue.” 🙂 Sigh!

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  3. Yes Emma – it is of concern – I have seen the flags in Portland – but mostly it was both orange and green on each light post – not sure any significance – better both colours than one ?

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  4. The colours and symbols (eg in Afruca) have significance and meaning for many, whether as flags, or just that red is ‘socialist/labour right’ (left) or blue is (right) representative of ‘capital’ in many countries. But, which drives emotions higher, the flags or colour coordinated meetings and gatherings that go on all the time?

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      1. But no, one is not the national flag in this case. It very rarely is. It is merely marking out “political territory” – which has caused much violence and divisiveness and will continue to do so…

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    1. Yes, I see it in the U.S. a lot too… But if it’s pretty much a tradition, that is a little different, I think. In the UK it would be considered rather weird, so when people hang a St George’s flag out of their window it would definitely have political overtones…

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  5. Good read and I agree with you about the flags. I find it extremely puzzling looking at how some of my Jamaican people are proudly holding up flags, waving, displaying and wearing the political parties colours and flags! They also seem to get so excited about the flags and about the political leaders or representatives just recently when a tease from the prime minister was put out to test the waters..It has been said that Mrs Simpson is the worst Prime Minister Jamaica has had, evident by her lack of leadership and so many other negatives, resulting in the current impoverished condition of Jamaica and a large percentage of its citizens. Yet the people look to be falling over themselves and possible killing each other (if the story about the two deaths re the flag is true) over a Government who don’t give a damn about them. Why the proud display of flags! why the loyalty! They need to ask themselves what has been done for them since voting them in, how has their lives been improved, have they been accountable! these and so much other questions should be asked before such diehard devotion and loyalties.

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    1. We are in a pretty poor state politically, I agree. Lots of good things are happening on the ground in Jamaica, many positive and unifying programs for youth and minorities for example – and yet our political leaders and their followers continue to behave like this! There is no excuse for it – they are living in the past. I believe both party leaders need to get serious and tone down the tribalism. After recent utterances on party platforms, however, I am not optimistic. Thank you for your comments, Janet!

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