Bowling Green, OH – (TFC) American media outlets flew into a frenzy on Friday at the University of California, Irvine Student Government’s decision to, as many headlines put it “ban the American flag” from campus. Though many outlets further explained that the flag was only banned in a student government workroom, rage-inducing headlines such as the Daily Caller‘s “US College Bans American Flag To Be More ‘Inclusive’” led many people to believe the America-hating student body voted to ban the American flag from campus.
Hold the signs and rallies though, because as it turns out, the students did no such thing.
First, UC Irvine students did not only target the American flag. The official student resolution, R50-70, states “that no flag, of any nation, may be hanged on the walls of the Associate Student main lobby space.” Though the controversy started when an unknown person took the American flag down from the lobby space, the resolution specifically targets flags of all nations.
Secondly, very few UC Irvine students participated in the vote, taken by only 12 members of the Student Government. In fact, the resolution to ban flags of all nations only passed 6-4-2, with the Student Government president, Reza Zomorrodian against it. This vote no more represents the whole of the students of UC Irvine than Congress voting to continue warrantless surveillance means that Americans no longer value their privacy.
As Mr. Zommordian put it, “Only six people voted for this.” He said, “We have 22,000 undergrads here. Six people made this decision.”
Thirdly, according to the university, American flags are still flying. The resolution is not an established policy yet, and still has to go against a possible student government presidential veto, which would then have to be overruled.
Finally, and most importantly, this resolution does not ban American flags from flying on UC Irvine’s campus. To be specific, this resolution targets all national flags, in the student center on campus, on the second floor, in the student government lobby. The statistical significance of this vote is equal to you and a few friends voting to ban Twinkies from your picnic table.
What this vote does expose, however, is the refusal of the vast majority of the American public to accept that their country can do wrong, or that it is even acceptable to point out American failings. The parts of the resolution many outlets had an issue with were these three lines:
“Whereas a common ideological understanding of the United states includes American exceptionalism and superiority.
Whereas the American flag is commonly flown in government public service locations, military related entities, at homes, in foreign lands where the US government has a presence.
Whereas the American flag has been flown in instances of colonialism and imperialism.”
These three lines, and within them the idea that the American government, represented by the American flag, has made wrong moves, mistakes, and outright oppressed people around the world should be as uncontroversial as admitting that those Twinkies at your picnic table, indeed, do cause adverse health effects. Yet they were not.
It was those three lines which brought a student government’s resolution for one room on a California campus to the attention of national news, and took what should have been a minuscule vote to a national firestorm.
Yet the importance of the resolution isn’t in what was written. It is simply in the way Americans reacted to it, unable to grasp the concept that their own government could be at fault for anything. It is in the fact that only the American flag was reported as banned, even though the resolution specifies flags of all nations. It is in the exposure of that nationalism, and the way we view other cultures as inferior to ours, that this resolution really makes its point.
Ironically, the response of most Americans to the existence of the resolution’s statement about “American exceptionalism and superiority” validates the student government’s concerns. But while it’s tempting to blame the American media for taking a resolution passed by 6 people in a small student government in a California college affecting one room on the second floor of one building on campus to a national story, the real responsibility for this firestorm is the American people. It’s us, and our inability to accept America’s mistakes, that brought the media hits that made the story worthwhile to publish.
No, the students of UC Irvine didn’t ban the American flag from campus. But now that we’re talking about the flag, maybe it’s time to look at how others around the world see it. Maybe it’s time to look at the way the American empire treats people around the world. Maybe, just maybe, now that we’re talking about Twinkies at your picnic, it’s time to see if your friend has a point about their adverse health effects.
UPDATE 3/8/15: The UC Irvine student executive council vetoed the resolution: http://news.uci.edu/briefs/uci-student-executive-council-vetoes-flag-resolution/