I have a very specific list of topics I refuse to discuss, because the discussion of those topics lead no where, and usually end in exclamations of 'Racist!' or 'Misogynist!' or 'Reaganite!' Sometimes those words are directed towards me, and sometimes they come out of me, and no one leaves happy, and no one gets any new point of view.
A list of topics I avoid in polite conversation, in no particular order:
When G and I first moved into our Inwood apartment, where we remain aged and aging 10 years later, one of the first things we did was hang a knit blanket in living room window. It was a practical move: we had no curtains or blinds yet; we had a blanket able to block curious neighbors from peering into our window; we thought the blanket was expendable.
Also, one of the first items of decoration put up on our walls were the covers from art spiegelman's Maus duology.
The blanket in our window looked like this:
The covers of Maus looked like this:
We'd just moved into a neighborhood with a heavy immigrant influence. I still recall the reaction of our building's super when he first came into our apartment. When the super left, Greg said simply that either I put up a Rebel flag or take down the American flag and the dual swastikas.
"But he misunderstood," I said. "There are reasons for all this."
Currently--and not out of practicality--the window of our bedroom window is covered both by vinyl blinds and a rainbow flag. We've taken down Maus and we've taken down the American flag in our living room. The rainbow flag still hangs over our bedroom window, and is visible when the blinds are up.
Or down, really. Even when the blinds are down, the rainbow flag uses the light from our floor lamp to declare itself. Gaudy, yes. But no less gaudy than buying a half-caff at a Starbucks.
When is a racist flag not a racist? When is a flag simply a flag?
Surely using the covers of a Pulitzer-winning duology like Maus is safe, even when those covers prominently feature swastikas?
And the US flag is far removed from the same design that once was used to claim the land of Native Americans. There are far more stars on the flag now than there were when we started forcing the Red Man off his lands.
So, good, right?
When I was a kid, I was in Alabama and I had a Confederate flag hanging on one wall. The flag meant nothing to me other than as a connection to a popular television show (Dukes of Hazzard) and as a bit of fabric I enjoyed touching (Dukes of Don't Ask). At some point between the ages of 8 and 10, the flag came down. No muss. No fuss. No protest. No second thoughts. The flag came down, and now exists only in memory, which is fading.
The American flag in our window, I realized, sent a very powerful message. It sent to our neighbors, most of whom did not speak English, a message I did not mean. Certainly, I'm an American, and have the right to fly the US flag.
Sometimes, having a right means being mindful of the rights of others.
So, where we've lived for 10 years, this apartment where we've aged and are aging, is a five minute walk from where Peter Minuit supposedly bought the entire island of Manhattan from Native Americans. It is an apocryphal story but physically marked in a park G, Waf and I frequent: there is a rock symbolizing the very spot where Minuit made the deal. And what a deal!
Land so fertile, buildings sprouted like redwoods!
History so dense, academic research grows around it!
So when is a racist flag not racist?
1.) I don't know.
UPDATE: I may not know, but I still have hope.