Detroit has a flag. You've probably seen it, even if you didn't know what it was.
It honors the city’s history. Two women stand in a circle in the center, one weeping over a city in flames — a nod to the fire of 1805 — and the other gesturing optimistically to the one that will rise in its place. Around them, quadrants in red, white, blue and gold symbolize the countries that have controlled Detroit since its founding July 24, 1701. (Today is, incidentally, the city's 318th birthday).
But to Deon Mixon, a 24-year-old Detroit native and graphic designer, the flag is a visually cluttered celebration of colonialism that has very little to do with the Detroit we know today.
Mixon has made it his mission to replace the flag with a minimalist variation comprised of entirely different hues. In black, white and swimming-pool blue, Mixon says his “Detroit Rise” represents “resilience, righteousness and progression,” while paying tribute to industries that have helped put the city on the map.
“People make up a city, and Detroiters have been for betterment and improvement,” says Mixon. “They came with this grit … a bounce-back mentality that looks ahead and makes new moves.
“I don’t see that at all in the stars and stripes of the U.S. flag, or the French fleur-de-lis, or the three golden lions [in the Royal Arms of England].”
Mixon developed his flag concept two years ago, while studying design at Western Michigan University. He’d listened to a Ted Talk titled “Why city flags may be the worst designed thing you’ve never noticed,” by design guru Roman Mars. The talk explains that good flags are simple, rely on only two or three common colors, and contain meaningful symbolism. Chicago’s — a three-hued flag with four stars in the center — is cited as an example, and, indeed, it is a prominent fixture in the city’s landscape. Chicagoans know their city has a flag, and they know what it looks like.
In Mixon’s Detroit Rise, the white wave that runs through the center represents the river, the blue represents progression, and the black represents resilience. The five-point star in the corner symbolises the city’s top industries — among them autos and music. It's also more modern than the current flag, Mixon says, not only visually, but in that it draws from the city’s culture from about 1900 on.
But Mixon's effort to replace Detroit's flag is not without controversy. On Facebook last week, critics called it an attempt by “New Detroit” to wipe the city’s history. Some of the concern stems from his pitch: Mixon leads with an explanation about how Detroit is “in a state of renovation” and “deserves a symbol of rebirth just as new as the ash it is gradually rising from.”
Still, he is undeterred, and says Detroiters tend to come around when they hear him fully explain the concept.
He's pitched the idea twice to Detroit City Council, but was recently informed via letter that the body would not be taking up his cause any time soon.
In absence of government backing, he's now trying to drum up more public support. There’s an online petition to replace the existing flag, and this Friday, he’ll pitch the idea at a monthly gathering of creatives in Midtown. The talk is free, and you can sign up here.
Those proud of our existing flag have options to show their support, too. The sixth annual Raise the Flag fest, hosted by Ali Thrower of Detroit, is going on all week, with events across town.