These past couple of weeks have proven enlightening. I have learned new things about myself and my heritage that I didn’t know.
I’m from the South. I love the Confederate Flag. That makes me a bigoted, redneck racist. Right? Hmmm. News to me!! I never knew that the Stars and Bars represented hate, and that by having an affinity for it, I was aligning myself with slave owners of 150 years ago, or the despicable actions of groups like the KKK. Or that it makes me think my lily-white skin entitles me to opportunities not available to the brown-skinned people who share this country with me. That’s really a strange thing to learn, since I was not only alive during desegregation, I remember distinctly the first group of black kids who came to my school. I am still friends today with some of them.
Was there racism then? Of course there was. (But back then, we didn’t call it being racist. We called it “being prejudiced”.) Those were probably the most racially-charged, volatile days in history. Did we hate them? Not that I recall. As kids in the last generation of a segregated America, we were more afraid of them, I think, and I’m quite sure they were afraid of us. I was in 2nd grade when that happened, in my small-town school. After a few years, we kids had accepted things as they were, and for the most part, got on quite well. We hugged each other after a basketball victory, we shared seats on the bus, we played on the playground together… we were friends. That’s not to say there weren’t some troubling times. In high school there were some really tough and scary black kids, and I tried my best to stay out of their way. But, they were still finding their place in a fairly-recently desegregated school system, and had the roles been reversed, I don’t expect there would have been much difference.
I will admit that my granddaddy did not like black folks. He made no bones about it. He was not alone, though. It was something handed down from generations before him. Til the day he died.
But you know what? He didn’t go around waving a confederate flag to proclaim his feelings. I may be wrong, but I don’t remember a confederate flag flying at my school, nor in my grandaddy’s yard. Ever. At one time, our Georgia state flag depicted the stars and bars, but that was changed in 2003. I can’t even recall seeing a confederate flying anywhere recently. So what’s all the hoopla about? It's just a flag.
I must agree, though, that the confederate flag has no place flying over a government building. But not for the reasons you might think. We are one nation - we should have one flag. I don’t want to see the flag of Mexico, or China, or the flag of Islam flying over government buildings either. Not because I dislike the people they represent, but because this is America. America! We need show allegiance to, nor fly, any other flag, besides Old Glory, our state and official local ones.
That said, if I want to fly a confederate flag in my yard, or wear a t-shirt or ball cap that replicates the flag, then by cracky, I should be able to go to the store and buy one. And if I want to watch The Duke Boys trying to outrun Roscoe P. Coltrane in the General Lee, then I should be able to turn on my television and watch it. I watched Bo and Luke every week in the late 70s/early 80s, and not once did I ever learn to hate black people, nor do I remember any derogatory remarks.
Does racism still exist? Of course it does. It always will. Anyone who thinks we will ever achieve Utopia is delusional. An evil white kid shot nine black people in a prayer meeting. That is horrific, and undeniably a crime of hate. Hoping to incite a race war, what he did was give some fine people the opportunity to show that goodness, forgiveness, and decency is not defined by skin color, and to show the most amazing picture of the grace of Jesus that I have ever seen, bar none. The families of those killed are heroes.
But because there was no rioting in the streets, and Jesse and Al didn’t stir things up, somehow the flag got brought into it. Now – I think it was insensitive to not lower the flag – but then again I don’t think the flag should have been flying there to start with. I can truly see that some would be offended that it wasn’t lowered. But that doesn’t make the flag itself a representation of hate or intolerance. There are some hate groups who have unofficially taken the battle flag of the confederate army and made it their personal motto. But if I take the Christian flag, or the NASCAR flag, or the UGA flag and use it as a motto for something evil, does that make the flag itself evil? Does that mean that everyone who displays the flag is aligning themselves to that evil thing? Of course not.
It seems there is an awful lot of pandering going on these days. The basic arguments that it was rich black men who transported the slaves over here in the first place, and that northerners also owned slaves, seems to carry no weight. The fact that slave labor was as important to the north as it was the south is often overlooked. Without the slave labor of the south, the north wouldn’t have been provided with the products needed for manufacturing. It was a win-win for both the north and the south. Until it wasn’t.
Granted – slave owners mistreating their slaves by beating them into submission, ripping apart their families in the buying/selling process, inhumane housing, etc. is abominable, and makes for a dark period in our history, and I don’t think anyone is proud of that.
However – it IS our history. I’ve never heard anyone say that the civil rights movement was an easy time for blacks in America. It was a long, hard road. We as a country have made such progress in this area, even in my lifetime. I recently saw a poster of a black child and a white child giving each other a hug. The caption read “We are not born racist.” That is so true!! It is a learned behavior.
Racism will always be a big ugly mark on the face of our flag, but the confederate flag is not the ink that makes that mark. That mark is made by the hate and intolerance of both white and black people who just will not realize that the more we “fight” racism by trying to eradicate any and everything that offends someone, the more we are perpetuating the problem.
Don’t like the Confederate flag? Don’t buy one. But don’t ban it so that others can’t buy one. That is censorship. Don’t like Dukes of Hazard? Don’t watch it. But don’t assume that what represents hate to you has the same meaning for me.
If erasing everything that reminds us of slavery and/or hate is necessary, then it is also necessary to remove any and all monuments to the north’s victory in the war. Heck, let’s just pretend slavery never existed, and the Civil War never happened. How can you erase one part without the other? Don’t hold me responsible for something I never participated in, and today’s black people never experienced. I have no problem with black people honoring their heritage, and how far they have come. It is something to celebrate. The act of celebrating emancipation does not offend me. But in the same vein, honoring my ancestors for fighting in a cause about which they were passionate (right or wrong) is my heritage, and should not be offensive to anyone else. It does not make me racist, nor does it mean we I want to reinstate slavery. That’s just absurd. I understand that I’m white, and haven’t lived as a black person. But what I don’t understand is why we can’t move forward. It’s not about winning or losing. There will always be a faction of people who think they are better than others. This is true of all races, and even within races. But until people learn to leave behind the baggage of the past, we will never be able to go forward. If just one generation of people could let it go, then the next generation would be much more tolerant and supportive of each other.
But until that day comes, trust me. Watching the Duke Boys on TV (you just won’t find it on TVLand), or listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd or Confederate Railroad will not make you a racist. Singing “I wish I was in Dixie” won’t either, even though it was banned as the UGA fight song in the early 70s. Flying the confederate flag in your yard might raise some eyebrows, and may be considered by some to be in poor taste, but, at least for a while longer, it is perfectly within your right to do so. Let’s hope that never changes.
And as for the “lessons” I’ve learned lately? Hogwash.