The American flag is supposed to be a symbol of what unites us.
But, unfortunately, the symbolism of Old Glory often gets muddled. When patriotism gets conflated with extreme nationalism, the flag becomes a symbol of xenophobia. When people fly the flag with pride while preaching of intolerance, our flag becomes a symbol of bigotry. When the banner itself is held higher in importance than the freedoms for which it stands, our flag becomes a false idol.
I've long believed patriotism doesn't belong only to those who define it by narrow, nationalistic standards. However, those are the folks who usually pop into my mind when I think of people who show their patriotism with a flag. And I'm not alone.
Courtney Hartman was tired of the flag being associated with intolerance and hatred. So she decided to reclaim it.
The designer and founder of kids' clothing line Free to Be Kids felt like the American flag was being hijacked by hate. She put out a call for help two years ago:
"I want to try to make an American flag design where the stripes are comprised of words like compassion, understanding, justice, equality, liberty, love, etc. To show the American flag as a symbol of the things that we do love and should love about this country. It's an ambitious design idea and I don't know if I can pull it off but I feel like we all could kind of use this perspective on America right now and I'd like to try.
So... I could really use your help with words of love for America!"
People responded, and the America the Wonderful shirt design was born.
Image via Free to Be Kids.
Character qualities and humanitarian values make up the stars and stripes in a bold and beautiful statement.
With words like love, compassion, hope, justice, peace, diversity, equality, inclusivity, and more, Hartman reclaimed the flag as a symbol of what America really stands for — or at least what she wants it to aspire to be.
"We've committed so many atrocities," says Hartman. "But America was designed to be better, to learn and grow and improve. So the values represented in our design could be seen as aspirational. Or maybe they are just our good side — what Michelle Obama in her DNC speech called 'our national virtues.' We have a lot to face up to, but I believe that the words represented on our flag design are a vision of the America that so many people want us to be."
Hartman rearranged the 50 stars over the blue field into the word "LOVE," and not just because it fit well. Love is the key, and it serves as an anchor for everything else.
We saw people in American flag shirts telling black and brown people to "go home." Telling people they couldn't kneel. Punching people at rallies. So we designed our own flag shirt to celebrate true American values: What makes America truly great? ❤️ Love. Compassion. Kindness. Hope. Generosity. Justice. Peace. Diversity. Equality. Fairness. Determination. Tolerance. Grit. Tenacity. Honor. Heart. Community. Resilience. Empathy. Unity. Understanding. Freedom. Honesty. Inclusivity. Pride. Passion. Vision. Wisdom. Integrity. Acceptance. ❤️ This design is hand printed and available on baby rompers size 6m to 24m and tees size 12m to Adult 3XL.
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"We need to wear our love like a breastplate, our justice like armor," Hartman wrote on the company's blog. "Because love is what will prevail. When hate is loud, love must not be silent. ... Love, love, love is what will take back our country." Indeed.
Thank you, Free to Be Kids, for taking back our flag and reminding America that healthy patriotism and progressive values are in no way mutually exclusive.
We were not compensated to write this article — we'd tell you if we were! — we just really loved this design and what it stands for.