There are ways to flip the bird with power and style.

Chelsea Lyons Kent’s middle finger-raising at the Democratic Convention lacked such courage.

Just when we were about to forget Fingergate, Kent put herself back in the news, this time in a Civil Beat Community Voices piece and in an op-ed she wrote for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, defending what she calls her “pithy gesture.”

If I were Kent, I would be lying low, hoping people would forget about my goofiness at the convention.

As national television broadcast the Democratic National Convention presidential nomination roll call, Hawaii delegate Chelsea Lyons Kent gives the middle finger. The gesture infuriated many in Hawaii, but made her a hero to some diehard Bernie Sanders supporters.
During a national TV broadcast of the Democratic National Convention presidential nomination roll call, Hawaii delegate Chelsea Lyons Kent sneaks in her bird-flip. C-SPAN screenshot

But the Bernie Sanders delegate is back, still without remorse, to re-emphasize that she flipped the bird at the convention because she felt “cheated, helpless and bullied.”

She says in Civil Beat that she was forced to protest because of the DNC’s unfair favoritism of Hillary Clinton over Sanders.

“I decided to act on my feelings rather than pretend. My only regret is that I could not put up both hands.”

Star-Advertiser columnist Lee Cataluna got prissy on this issue. She said Kent’s bird flip shamed the entire state. But come on. It takes more than a clueless malihini raising her middle finger to embarrass proud Hawaii.

Kent embarrassed herself, because her finger flipping lacked boldness.

Instead of talking about what Kent did wrong, I think it is infinitely more helpful to talk about how to fling the bird the right way.

Rule No. 1 is never flip the bird sneakily like Kent did as she smirked and lurked behind the backs of Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono.

Secret bird-slinging is what kids do when they are mad at their parents. They flip the bird behind a closed door or anywhere they think their parents can’t see them. I admit I did that from time to time when I felt powerless as a teenager.

When we were in high school, my friend Sandra Osorio Stoner flipped the bird behind her father’s back when he was telling her off, but she forgot she was in front of the TV set. Her very strict father saw her upturned finger reflected in the glass. She was grounded for months.

The bird has been used ever since the time of the ancient Greeks. Ethnologist Desmond Morris explains its force as an obscenity: “The middle finger is the penis and the curled fingers on either side are the testicles. By doing it you are offering someone a phallic gesture.”

To sling the middle finger correctly, it must be done with bravery and conviction. Consider Lisbeth Salandar, the heroine of “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” novels. One of the best moments in the first novel in the series was when Lisbeth, as a young girl, set her ruthlessly criminal father on fire after he had nearly beaten her mother to death in front of her.

courtesy of Lala Openi
“Transcend” by Lala Openi is currently available to view by request at Studio 213 inside the Chinatown Artists Lofts. Courtesy of Lala Openi

I am unsure if Lisbeth raised her middle finger before she fought back against her father but it would have been an acceptable time for her for to flip him the bird.

I believe another acceptable way to flip the middle finger is in the face of death.

I experienced such a deployment of the bird during an ambush when I was a reporter covering the Vietnam War.

It happened in 1966 on a patrol with the 1st Battlion, 9th Marines, near the village of Duc Ky south of Danang. A sniper had wounded a private named Fred Gunther. The marines moved Gunther out to a small Buddhist shrine in the middle of a rice field to await evacuation by a helicopter.

When the medevac helicopter swept in to pick up Gunther, Viet Cong in the trees around the shrine started shooting at us and at the helicopter even though it had a big red cross on its side. We were exposed in the rice field. There was nowhere to go for cover.

The Marines fired back at the Viet Cong, and started screaming “Fuck you” and “Fucking assholes” while flipping their enemies the bird.

Slinging the finger at the guerrillas as they blasted away at us from the trees was astounding, momentarily magical. It made me feel more terrified, but it seemed to embolden the Marines.

Our boot camp coach, KC Carlberg, said there is one time and one time only to politely sling the finger and that is when someone has completely disrespected you and means to do you grievous harm.

I second that. Do it when someone is trying to kill you or rape you. Finger slinging is for the big, unforgettable moments in life. Do it boldly.

Also, Carlberg says do it when you know you still have an avenue of escape. “Flip and flee,” she calls it.

I say flip and face forward with the power of your one finger cutting through the air like a saber slashing through eternity.

Not like Kent. Not like a little sissy.

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