We Asked Americans How They Feel About The U.S. Flag. It Got Interesting. There is a lot of love for the Stars and Stripes, but some people say the flag's meaning has changed in ways that make them uncomfortable.

We Asked Americans How They Feel About The U.S. Flag. It Got Interesting.

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This is a year when the U.S. often feels really divided, so NPR decided to ask people how they're feeling about a symbol that's meant to stand for all of us - the American flag. More than 1,800 people responded to our informal survey. We heard a lot of love for the Stars and Stripes, but we also heard from people who say the meaning of the flag has changed in ways that make them uncomfortable. NPR's Brian Mann reports.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Mark Hurley (ph), a retired veteran, is doing chores on a fall afternoon in Bennington, Vt. Hurley has not one but two American flags in front of his house.

MARK HURLEY: That means tons to me. Regardless of what your opinion is on life, whatever, we are Americans. We should be proud of that over everything. Why would I want to not have a flag?

MANN: Hurley is white and leans conservative. He sees the flag as something sacred - a symbol you salute not a symbol you question. He worries his kind of patriotism is being lost, in large part because Americans are focusing so much on issues of race.

HURLEY: Let's talk slavery first. That happened 200, 300 years ago. We should forget that, be beyond that.

MANN: This summer, the country's long struggle with racial inequality erupted as hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets. This came up again and again as people talked about the flag and its meaning. Many white Americans who lean more conservative told NPR they still see the flag as fairly simple and unifying.

ERIN DOWDY: I think it's a symbol of the shared values and ideals of the United States.

MANN: Erin Dowdy (ph), who's 31 and white, works for a seed company in Clovis, Calif. She's impatient with people who see the flag as a symbol burdened by racism.

DOWDY: The United States is still pretty much the most equal place you can have for people of different backgrounds.

MANN: But others, especially people of color and those who lean more liberal, say it's not that simple. For them, the American flag comes with baggage that we need to talk about.

KEVIN LOPEZ: With all the protests and the Black Lives Matter stuff happening, we took the flag down for a little bit.

MANN: Kevin (ph) and Denise Lopez (ph) live in San Pedro, Calif. This summer, events like George Floyds death in police custody shook their family. Denise is Black. Kevin has Mexican and Irish heritage.

K LOPEZ: It was pretty disheartening for a little while the way that our people were being treated. And then Denise was the one that brought it up and said, hey, I want to revisit this. And we had a family discussion about it.

MANN: The Lopezes decided to raise the flag again. But for them, questions of racial justice aren't ancient history. They're a defining part of being American. Denise says, for her, reclaiming the flag feels like part of that struggle.

DENISE LOPEZ: It was like a pit in my stomach. It was almost like, is it now what the Confederate flag felt like for my parents? And I was like, no, I'm not going to feel that way every time I see an American flag.

MANN: We heard a lot from people who share this worry. The American flag has been sort of weaponized, deliberately redefined as a more conservative symbol. Ben Eagleson (ph) is a car mechanic who lives in Olney, Ill.

BEN EAGLESON: We had a Black Lives Matter rally in our town. And there were a lot of people driving by with American flags on the back of their pickup trucks, you know, as a counterprotest. And it's like those of us that were supporting Black Lives Matter were somehow un-American or something.

MANN: Eagleson is white, 39 years old. He, too, took his American flag down for a time, but says it's flying again now.

EAGLESON: I'd let something that had always been for me a positive symbol take on a negative meaning. And I guess I just decided to reclaim it.

MANN: Regardless of race or political persuasion, a lot of Americans we heard from say they do see the American flag as hopeful and beautiful even now, in a time of deep national division. Ahn Vu (ph) flies the flag over his front porch. He lives in Dearborn, Mich. He's 28 years old, a business analyst and the son of immigrants from Vietnam. He told us his family first flew the American flag when he was a kid after the terror attacks in 2001.

AHN VU: I hope that flying the flag can return to what we felt like after Sept. 11. The sense of unity that we felt, the way that we were able to grow together after that, I think, was really amazing.

MANN: A lot of people told NPR that kind of unity feels really elusive now. They say they're flying the flag more often next to other symbols to give it more context, more personal meaning. For some, that means the Stars and Stripes raised along with a Make America Great Again banner. For others, it's the American flag and the gay pride banner or a Black Lives Matter sign.

Brian Mann, NPR News.

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