Updated: Aug 20, 2019
I'm a little late on this controversy, but if you didn't hear over the Independence Day break, Nike pulled their release of a limited edition sneaker featuring the "Betsy Ross" American flag. You've seen this flag before. Any time I see this one I think of Mel Gibson waving the flag after taking the battlefield at the end of "The Patriot." That scene sticks out in my mind because it's also how I see myself every time I release one of these articles.
The Betsy Ross flag was the original flag of the U.S.A. It featured the usual 13 stripes, but had a circle of 13 stars in the corner, both of which represented the original 13 colonies of America. This nearly forgotten antique flag was brought into the spotlight after Collin Kaepernick persuaded Nike to drop their "racist" design before bringing them to market in time for July 4th celebrations across the country. The basic idea being that the flag represented a time in U.S. history when slavery was the norm.
There's one major problem with banning the use of Betsy's flag in today's society based on the fact that the U.S. was heavily involved in the slave trade at that time- So was every other major country.
I haven't heard many calls to ban the use of Great Britain's flag, Mexico's flag, France's flag, let alone the dozens of other flags still used by nations around the world. When you see Britain's flag, do you think of the hundreds (if not thousands) of years that country used slave labor?
The history of slavery is tough to research, but based upon several sources, I can tell you these major civilizations used slave labor in the 1700 - 1800's.
The slippery slope of banning the first flag used by America would lead you to banning the use of about 30 other countries' flags, most of which are still in use by those countries today. The principle behind the removal of the Betsy Ross flag should lead you to ban many other nations' flags, if it is purely on principle that you are doing so. My suspicion is, however, that this is not done on principle. Like so many other emotional outcries we see today, this is done on a subjective principle that creates a daily set of new principles based on "feelings."
Why is it that the original American flag is looked at as a symbol of slavery, but that same connotation does not apply to the British Flag?
One reason might be the statistical slight-of-hand that has taken place with our knowledge of history. I'm not speaking for everyone, but I know the timeline of the abolition of slavery is somewhat messy, and hard to understand. Statistics that are messy and hard to understand can be easily manipulated.
Who outlawed slavery first?
I've heard numerous claims by conservatives, liberals, or libertarians on which country actually abolished slavery first. Conservatives will say something to the effect of "The US was the first country to ban slavery, so, you're welcome." A liberal will respond with "No, that isn't true, it was the British." The Libertarian will respond with "Well, actually, (insert witty comment)."
The common abolition date mentions the UK abolishing the "slave trade" in 1807. It's important to remember that abolishing the slave trade and abolishing slavery are two completely different things. You were still able to keep your slaves, but the buy/sell/trade of slaves was abolished. Saying that the banning of the "slave trade" is the abolition of slavery itself misses the entire point. Crude example: I have a cat. The government bans the buying/selling/trading of cats. Do I still have a cat?
If people want to mention the UK's outlawing of the slave trade in 1807, it's important to mention that the U.S. also abolished the slave trade immediately afterwards, in 1808. We all know that it was not until Abraham Lincoln's "Emancipation Proclamation" in 1863, and the 13th Amendment in 1865, that slavery was abolished in America. Although, slavery was officially outlawed in most British colonies in 1833.
Several countries can make the claim, but the award goes to Vermont for being the first sovereign state to abolish slavery in 1777. Amazingly throughout the estimated 11,000 years of slavery, a state in America became the first to abolish slavery just one year after the Declaration of Independence.
What's the point?
I believe it goes without saying, but enslaving another human being is wrong. Even though we find it morally reprehensible today, it was in fact a common practice throughout most (98%) of recorded human history. In Europe, slaves were used on lands that had been settled for thousands of years. Those civilizations had been in place for centuries, using slave labor to further their existence. It is not an excuse by any means, but America existed for less than 100 years before outlawing the use of slave labor. These men were by no means "Saints," but it deserves to be noted that the first sovereign state to outlaw slavery was in America.
Pointing the finger at the first flag of America and using it as an example of racism can only be done using a completely biased point of view.
Most other countries in the world used slave labor at the time Betsy Ross designed the first American flag. Something tells me that if Nike were to release a sneaker dawning the British flag, Collin Kaepernick would not take to twitter in protest.
This must mean that it goes deeper than a hatred for slavery and racism. It points toward a deep hatred of America, herself.