Friday, June 26, 2015

Red, White, and Blue

I don't usually like to get into political issues here, because this is more of a family space to me, but then some political issues affect my family more than others. This new controversy about the Confederate flag basically sprang out of the murder rampage at the AME church in Charlotte, South Carolina, and has now basically eclipsed that tragedy and any talk about it, so, thanks for that, Internet.

This is how the debate works.

One side believes that the flag represents a war that was fought to maintain slavery in the United States, begun when American citizens treacherously opened fire on American soldiers and military installations. Since then, the rebel flag has become a symbol of bigotry and violence, mixed with some anti-government sentiment. It should no longer be flown at public-owned and government sites, because it taints the reputation of whatever institution flies it and sends a message of exclusion to African-Americans.

The other side believes that the flag is simply a historical artifact (of slavery) of the United States. In their minds, the war was not fought for slavery, but for economics (of slavery) and over the taxation of cotton and other crops (produced by slaves). The fact that the flag's image is so often found on T-shirts and bumper stickers bearing the slogans "The South will rise again," or "It's only half time," or "If at first you don't secede, try, try again," along with other, more graphically racist or bigoted statements, is just a travesty and a huge misinterpretation of history.

"The South will rise again." What does that mean, exactly? Every time I see it, I think that there can't possibly be so many people who never lived through that antebellum era, who are nonetheless just pining away for the days of agrarian economy, big front porches, iced sun tea, and slavery. It makes me wonder if the people who wear that slogan are really historical experts making a reasoned judgment about how our nation might have been better off, or if they are simply longing for more power and importance in their own lives and local communities. Or maybe they're just racist. Maybe they just don't like having a Black shift manager telling them what to do or a Black president making decisions for the country or Black passengers sharing a bus bench with them. Maybe they dream of a better time, when Black folks knew their place because the South by God showed them where it was.

I'll admit, it's difficult to hide my bias, because every single person that I've ever known who displayed that flag was a bigot, in one way or another. And that's hard to say, because some of these people were family members and friends that I loved, who would never have thought of themselves as racist. Still, they held views that were clearly prejudiced and bigoted, and the more they rationalized these views, the more racist they seemed. The new wave of racism is the "I guess that makes me a racist for telling truth" racism. In this paradigm, the racist says something really, super racist, and then says something like, "I know many people will think I'm racist for saying this, but I don't care." Then all of their racist Facebook friends can pile on the sympathy and say things like "No way! You're just telling the truth!" In order to truly capture the essence of it I would have to type these in all caps, but I can't bring myself to do it.

For example, I noticed that a Facebook friend of a Facebook friend just posted that Black people are more likely to commit violent crimes than white people, followed by "I guess that makes me a racist, but I don't care." For the record, yes, that does make you a racist, and of course you don't care, because you are a racist.

So to the argument that this rebel flag doesn't represent racism and slavery, but a historical conflict over completely benign economic and political issues, I would pose one question. Since when do traitors get to flaunt their treason? In what other country, anywhere in the world, would the losers of a rebellion or other violent uprising be allowed to display the symbol of their rebellion so proudly and ostentatiously? If the flag does simply represent the split between the North and the South, don't you think you look like sore losers at best, and dangerous upstarts at worst, flaunting your disdain and malevolence for what is supposed to be your country and your leadership?

Just to be clear, I firmly support the freedom of expression, and every American's right to own and fly that flag on their own property, whether it be house, car, or body. In fact, I encourage anyone who wants to display that flag on their property to buy one and fly it proudly. That way, my children can recognize you. That way, they will know who they are dealing with.

However, I also respect the rights of business owners, like Amazon, who refuse to sell these flags. This is not a "ban," nor is it an infringement of anyone's rights, this is the expression of the rights of the men and women who make decisions for these companies. If people are angry that they find it increasingly difficult to buy these flags, then they can support the few vendors who sell them, or they can learn to make them and sell them themselves, because this is America. Or they can just rethink their lives.

On the other hand, that flag has no place on public, tax-funded, government property. It is not the flag of any government, past or present, as supporters of the flag are eager to point out, and as such, it has no place on government, municipal property. Furthermore, whether you like it or not, whether you agree or not, and no matter what articles you share about the historicity of the flag, it sends a message to the community when it flies above government buildings. When a Confederate flag flies above a state congress building, it sends the message that there is no representation for African-Americans here, whether some people like it or not. When that flag flies above a court house, it sends the message that there is no justice for African-Americans here, despite what anyone thinks about its historicity. When that flag flies above a public school, it sends the message that education is not meant for African-Americans, regardless of what your wiki-page says. This is the message that rational people perceive, and it has no place in government spaces.

This is the way we heal America, how we cross the divide and fix our racial problems. We stop insisting that we are always supposed to get what we want, no matter how trivial the matter and no matter how much it threatens others and holds them back. We start listening to the other, not to bolster our debate or wait for our turn to shout, but to hear them.

By the way, on June 17, nine decent people were murdered by a terrorist with a real affinity for the rebel flag. I know they were decent people, because they welcomed their attacker into their private worship, despite the fact that he was very different from them. Their names are Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, Daniel L. Simmons, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, and Susie Jackson.

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