The arrest of fifteen Georgia residents who SUPPOSEDLY crashed a black neighborhood birthday party while flying Confederate Battle Flags, brandishing weapons, and shouting racial epitaphs has once again ignited discussion about our Southern heritage and hate.
During a conversation with a really good friend, one whose opinion I respect a great deal, it suddenly became apparent that I had misrepresented myself. Our conversation was about the Confederate Battle Flag that recently was removed from our State House dome. From some of my previous posts, she mistakenly believed that I was of the opinion that the flag was one of the reasons Dylann Roof decided to pull the trigger that took nine lives earlier this summer. I don’t believe that any more than I believe the gun was at fault. What I do believe is that both of these inanimate objects were a part of the same environment that spawned him. Does he suffer from some type of insanity? Probably, and that insanity, cultivated by a fertile environment of racism and cultural division, was pointed at his targets just like his gun.
His environment was one that included a belief in white supremacy and the belief that Blacks, Jews, and Orientals were taking over. It is a variant of the argument that I believe, was used prior to the Civil War to create support from Southern non-slave owners. The belief that if we had not supported slavery we would be living with them, competing for jobs, and marrying off our daughters to them.
My recent rants have not been so much about the flag itself as it was about the attempt to explain the flag in a light of love and heritage, and in doing so marginalizing the effect slavery had on the South and the Civil War. Non-apologist were spouting information that made me wonder if I had read the wrong research as an undergrad history major. It was “Lost Cause” propaganda that the war was only about the state’s rights, independence, and unfair tariffs, not slavery. There is a kernel of truth in that belief but these posters seemed to be forgetting that one of those state’s rights was the right to continue and expand slavery…and the independence to do so.
It is interesting that their defense of the flag rarely speaks to the events that occurred after the Civil War other than to say it was about heritage and not hate. I was born just after the Dixiecrats first hijacked the flag and grew up during the end of Jim Crow, Brown, and the Civil Rights movement. I began my teaching career just two years after the forced desegregation of schools. It wasn’t pretty but I thought we were past most of it. The aftermath of Charleston, Ferguson, North Charleston, the deaths of too many police officers and theatergoers, and a myriad of other places and issues proved to me that we had simply covered it up and ignored it as many posts I have read have proven to me. Black Lives Matter, White Lives Matter, Police Lives Matter, and All Lives Matter seemed to move toward no lives matter unless it is mine. The “us versus them” finger-pointing continues today and has expanded to include gays, Christians, Muslims, police officers, white trash, and any other group or person we disagree with or support. With plenty of fake news sites, anyone’s particular object of hatred could be fed.
I admit to having worked in an insulated environment all my adult life as a teacher. Teaching is not working in the real world, it’s MUCH MORE challenging than that. Ninety percent of my friends of African descent come from that sector as either former students, teachers, or administrators. With few exceptions, they are intelligent, hard-working, and solid citizens in every way. They are also professionals who will tell you that Jim Crow and racism are still alive and well and located in many places other than just the South. The Jim Crow of today has become de facto instead of de jure but it’s there none the less. They will also tell you that, as white Americans, we owe them nothing more than the truth and an honest chance…the same as everyone else.
Even though I have descendants who fought and died under the Battle Flag, I could not support it. I even have some sympathy for the girl who climbed the pole and took it down because fifty-four years is a long time to wait. You might need to know I was in high school during the Civil Rights protests and in college during the height of the Viet Nam protest era. Those protests made a lasting imprint and the right to peaceful protest is ingrained in me no matter how reprehensible it might be. Should she have taken it down? No. Nor should flags be pulled down from private homes or monuments defaced but again I believe that it’s about white supremacy and I would add, the black racism that it has helped to create.
There are fear and lack of trust that both races have for each other in South Carolina and other Southern states that have grown since the Civil War. It is well earned. Throughout the rest of the country our track record with Blacks, Native Americans, Asians and Hispanics has been just as bad and has been widened to include gays and lesbians, Muslims, the Pope and those of us who believe that being unconcerned about political correctness is just an excuse for middle schools like name-calling and bullying. It is time for the name-calling to end but I fear it is just as ingrained as our racism and our cultural and political divide.