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I’ve been quiet for over month now as I’ve been working fulltime then coming home to stressful to-do lists related to grad school, and because I’ve been trying to transition the blog to a website before posting again. But the transition is proving to be more arduous than I had hoped and things keep coming up that I’d like to comment on, so here I am.
Specifically, I’d really like to put my two cents in concerning the current Confederate flag controversy. There’s been a lot said on this already, and the issue is certainly more complicated than simply “if you support the flag, you’re racist.”
I understand that there is a debate concerning the south’s motivation for attempting to secede. Some would argue that slavery was only one in a host of state’s rights issues, and was not the sole reason that young men, many of whom came from poor families that couldn’t even afford slaves, chose to take up arms and risk their lives. Many would also argue that the Confederate flag can be waved as a sign of southern pride and heritage rather than prejudice or hatred.
The purpose of this blog is not to investigate history and modern interpretations of it. Nor is it an attempt to label those who would argue for the flag as a symbol of heritage to be a pack of liars. As a matter of fact, for the purpose of the point I’d like to make here we can give those folks the benefit of a doubt.
Let’s discuss the flag in that framework...as a symbol of heritage. I can see that. As a matter of fact, I emphatically agree.
But that’s the very issue. The Confederate flag is a huge piece of America’s heritage. It’s a symbol from a very important part of our history...our Civil War. A war that tore a fledgling nation in two and threatened to destroy the new country that so many had died to create just the century before.
The Confederate battle flag a part of everyone’s heritage, not just white people and not just white southerners. Many people died fighting for it, and many people died fighting against it. For many people it promised freedom from the Union, but for many others it threatened to bar the freedom to live and dream and act as human beings rather than a pieces of property.
Yes, it makes many feel regional pride and reminds them of the land their ancestors died to protect. But for the majority of our country’s African American population, it stands for a war that was fought at least in part to keep them in slavery. And even to other whites, it represents the rebellion their ancestors died to quell.
It represents a piece of everyone’s history, it makes everyone feel something, it harkens back to many view points of the American past.
Now am I saying that people don’t have the right to express themselves? No. Am I saying that anyone has the right to not be offended? No.
Firstly, this isn’t just “removing everything that offends someone,” as one of my Facebook friends so painfully put it. The flag is not simply "something that offends someone." That is both an inaccurate and insensitive way to refer to a symbol that reminds millions of people of the inequality that still effects their socioeconomic status today and reminds even more of us of the racial tensions we are so pained to see dividing our beloved nation.
Secondly, this isn’t just an issue of American citizens expressing themselves. The debate has largely focused on Confederate flags in public areas, such as the flag now being removed from the grounds of the South Carolina State House.
Basically, it comes down to this: to campaign for the Confederate flag to remain in public areas is not simply to champion a symbol which has positive associations for you. It’s to stick a middle finger right up at the rest of us, black and white, who have negative associations with the flag.
You’re not just saying “my heritage is important.” What you’re saying is “my heritage is more important and has more of a right to be seen than yours.”