A flag is a symbol in the word's most literal interpretation—it is an object whose images derive meaning from connotations both philosophical and historical and sensitive to the symbol's particular moment in time. Because a nation's or a state's or a city's flag is fundamentally a symbolic object, the significance of that fabric flapping in the wind is fluid, its meaning flowing with all of the present moment's ever-changing, ever-shifting history (see: the Confederate flag).
Whitesboro, NY mayor Patrick O'Connor would likely disagree! He does not see the issue with his town's flag, which depicts a white man attempting to choke a Native American. Via the Village Voice's Jackson Connor, who did some great reporting on this piece:
Some have reached out directly to me through my village email. And if they looked at the seal and went with an opinion based solely on what they’re looking at, I could understand why people would have concern about it. But, [as with] everything else, I think you have to take all the facts into consideration. And if people take the time to do that and they reach out to us, or they do the research themselves, it’s actually a very accurate depiction of friendly wrestling matches that took place back in those days.
As Connor notes in his piece, the image on the Whitesboro flag of a white man with his hands around an Indian man's neck "point(s) to a power dynamic that appears to favor colonialism in both the presented narrative and the image on the seal." But the historical origin of the flag doesn't matter—it matters what it means today, in 2015, and in 2015 it's a racist depiction of a white man strangling a Native American.
O'Connor did not immediately respond to Fusion's request for comment.
Michael Rosen is a reporter for Fusion based out of Oakland.