“America’s Flag is not Mine”
“Warm memories, sick heart”
Terry McMillan’s article published in the Times May 1st
touched a lot of chords latent in my heart.
I have long shared his anger over the politically correct
Pledge of Allegiance, etc. I choke when I see car dealers and
others using the American flag as an advertising gimmick. I choke
when I receive conservative propaganda with the American flag on
the front masthead. I even choke when the U.S. post office keeps
issuing American flag stamps.
I choke when my fellow Americans force me to be politically
correct in supporting “my country, right or wrong”.
Who insist that I cannot just call myself an American, but
must go through some old European mumbo-jumbo. Which is correctly
impossible, because one of my paternal forebears, the Rev. Jacob
Heindrieg Meyer, arrived in Pennsylvania from Switzerland in 1737,
and generations have been intermarrying for 255 years.
Who insist that all the wars that the U.S. has ever fought
were “just” wars, and to suggest otherwise is both unpatriotic
and disloyal to our war veterans!!!
A great many of whom never got near the firing lines, and I
had several torpedoes fired at my ship. (They missed.)
I choke when I express concern over what our ancestors did—
and are doing—to the American Indian, and find that I am ob-
viously not being “politically correct”.
I long to return to India, sit under a coconut palm on the
Malabar coast in shorts and bare feet eating rice and curry off a
banana leaf, and tell America to go to hell with its racism,
injustices, corruption, materialism, media trash and half-truths,
poverty pockets, apathy, ignorant people, etc., etc., etc.
Born in India of American parents, I can opt for British or
I long to live again among civilized people.
And I am not alone.
My sister, having just retired last year from 40 years of
service in Japan as a protestant missionary, wrote me April 17th
“Bit by bit we’re learning about life in the U.S. Mostly we
need to keep our cool…stop comparing to Japan…accept a new
way of life. It’s distressing to see our country in such a
mess…the place we nostalgically thought of as great and
wonderful, a utopia for all. We’re finding instead the problems
are humonguous, and solutions don’t seem to be available.”
An India friend tells me that the New York freight forwarders
are busy shipping household goods to India, as some of the
brightest and best India Americans are returning to India because
they don’t want their children growing up in America.
I realize that my vision is clouded by having lived solely,
by choice, in the Middle Atlantic states.
However, I have traveled widely throughout the states, and
talked with too many fellow travelers to not realize that the
sins of the east coast are not endemic but are states-wide.
My first recollection of inceptive patriotism was a little
tug of the heart when, as a 10 year old boy on a passenger ship
from Liverpool to Bombay, my brand new topee with a brand new
enameled American flag pinned on front blew off and into the Red
Sea. This emotion lasted about 5 seconds, about the time it took
for the topee to hit the water.
My next recollection comes six years later, in July, 1944,
when I boarded the naval grey troop transport, the U.S.S. General
A.E. Anderson, in Bombay with the American flag flying bravely
from the stern, on its maiden voyage from New York to San Diego
via North Africa, getting ready for service in the Pacific.
My first experience with racism occured in my senior year at
college, when Muhlenberg had recruited black Elmo Jackson from
Allentown, Pa. to play football and he refused to go along with
As student council vice president, I chatted with him about
it, and adviced him to “go along” for his own sake, and found he
had a sullen “chip on his shoulder”.
15 years later I found out why. Seeing him moping the floor at
the GAC building in Allentown at 9 in the evening, we chatted for
the second time.
He told me he had become homesick for Allentown and his
family, and this was the only job he—a top football player and
graduate of a top liberal arts college—could find in town (’62)
Needless to say, I felt heartsick, my “patriotism” took a
steep nosedive, and in spite of years of activism against racism,
racism in America continues to make me sick to my stomach.
But back to graduation in ’48, with the summer of ’48 finding
me in an outwardly idyllic New York City, revelling late at night
on the subways, ferries, sidewalks, parks and Harlem night clubs,
though with the caveat—for the first time in my life in India,
the Middle East, Europe and the states— that certain areas were
Civil rights activism and laws were beginning to stir, and I
got accustomed to being denied food service on the Wilmington—
Washington axis if I was in the company of non-whites.
I learnt that native-born blacks accepted this as their fate,
whereas Africa and West Indian blacks and Asians would not toler-
ate this nonsense and totally ignored the attempted rebuff.
Enter Wayne Simpson. I had advertised for a roommate in the
Times , and I received a call from Conn. The voice began “I am
black” and I replied “So what else is new?”
So fortyish Simpson moved in with a 22 year old on East 48th
St., and talked the black experience for 3 years. We became life-
He said he was the first black to live on the east side
(’50), that his name came from his family’s slave owner at emanci-
pation time. He worn a skullcap for 2 days before going out because
kinky hair was not “acceptable”, entertained streams of male and
female friends, and occasionally we visited his friends in the
fine brownstones of Harlem and hit the bars on 125th St.
When I asked him about rundown neighborhoods, his explanation
was that because blacks generally had only entry-level jobs, in
order for them to scrap together the down payment on a house,
severally families had to pool their resources, and then everyone
moved in and each worked two or more jobs to cover the mortgage,
taxes and expenses. They had no time to maintain the house. Made
sense to me.
Time goes on, and in ’65 I own the usual middle class home in
the usual suburban town of Windsor, Conn. (just north of Hart-
ford). I am aware that there is a black neighborhood in the
eastern part of town.
I accept a job back in Pennsylvania, put a “For Sale” sign on
the front lawn, and within a week received a frantic call from my
wife that a nice black couple had come to look at the house, the
neighbors were berserk and in tears over fear of falling real
estate values. Our next-door neighbor, from Scranton, Pa. came
over to assure her that they would be happy to have a black
All turned out “well” for Hope Circle? The couple never came
back, and we gave the house to a realtor.
And I have always hated myself for making such an impromptu
decision over the long distance telephone.
Back in Allentown, Pa. I called upon the pastor of one of the
black churches in the “black neighborhood”, to see what I could do
about race relations in town.
He totally shocked me when he asked, in all seriousness, if I
thought blacks would be “allowed” to go shopping in the downtown
business district. You know my response.
We had always had multi-racial people in our home—exchange
students, friends from overseas, newly made friends.
We were pleased and proud when our daughter Ruth went to her
Senior Prom in ’77 with a oriental boy, again pleased and proud
of her—and Allentown— when she brought a black boy friend
Greg back from Georgetown University for an Easter week-end, and
everywhere we went in town we were treated as just “persons”.
Now one of my homes is in Princeton, N.J., in the black
neighborhood (I hope no one calls it a ghetto, though I have some
I have no doubts but that my black neighbors do not feel
welcome in town, that “the man” controls their lives, that they
suffer job discrimination.
And they still seem to placidly accept it.
I want to scream—and I do—just do it! Go for it! Doors
have been opened! Doors are open!
Get those jobs! Get that education! Hold your head high! Live
a normal life!
Just do it!