As the campaign to tear down the Confederate flag from statehouses, shops, and memorials continues to be waged across the country, one professor has chosen to weigh in on a flag she says is similarly offensive: Specifically, the state flag of Minnesota.
At a glance, Minnesota’s flag seems pretty bland. Like many states, it simply has its state seal on a blue field. Said seal shows a pioneer working his fields, while a Native American rides southward in the background. But Judith Harrington, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, published an argument shortly before the July 4th holiday complaining that the flag creates a racist contrast between peaceful whites and supposedly violent American Indians.
“The contrast in the images of the figures is interesting,” writes Harrington. “The image of the pioneer, a peaceful man who has laid down his gun and is plowing his field, is juxtaposed with the image of the Indian, who may still want to fight (his spear is at the ready) but who seems to be riding away.”
Harrington then gets deep into the picture’s subtext, saying that the simple seal appears to justify conquest and genocide.
“The white man is depicted as a ‘doer’ who is entitled to the land, trees and water, empowered by the concept of Manifest Destiny,” she says. “The Indian is the vacating tenant. A peaceful transition is suggested, but this ignores the tense and problematic history of conflict between European settlers and Indians, such as the complicated history of treaties and the Dakota War of 1862. More problematic, however, is the depiction of a racist, stereotyped Indian, who wears only a loin cloth and a feather.”
Harrington’s complaint about the flag “ignoring” the Dakota War is an odd one. The image on the flag is taken from the state seal, which dates to 1858, thus predating the war it supposedly ignores.
Nevertheless, Harrington says the flag must go.
“The history of Minnesota includes many different stories, and the state flag should represent those many voices or — at the very least — not be offensive to those who live there. There have been voices of protests for this flag ever since the seal was first used. It is time that the state flag is revised, perhaps through a statewide design contest. While the current flag may represent a certain view and vision of the past, it does not reflect the values and sensibilities of Minnesotans today.”
Whether or not Minnesota natives accept her reasoning, they may have another reason to consider dumping the flag: A 2001 poll by the North American Vexillogical Association found that the public rated Minnesota’s flag as the sixth-ugliest state flag in the country.
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