Shortly after the horrific Charleston church shooting an arrest was made of the execrable Dylann Roof. The media quickly set about digging into his social media resumé (as it were) and soon discovered photos where he is either posing with a Confederate flag or paying homage to the former flag of apartheid era South Africa. This man-child monster was a hater. He posed with things that (in his mind) were a reflection of hatred. Upon tasting something vile or bitter you immediately spit it out; that was the same reaction society had to everything (well, not Gold’s Gym) associated pictographically with this person (and I use the term “person” loosely).
There not being any strong historical connection in the American psyche with apartheid era flags attention naturally turned to the Confederate flag (or more properly the Confederate “battle flag” – the actual national flag of the Confederacy resembled America’s revolutionary flag). For simplicity I will refer to it as “the flag.” This flag (until recently) flew in numerous places all across the American south, from both government property and private property. National attention quickly turned focus on this fact and demands were made that these flags be removed — permanently. If ever proof were needed that this flag was a symbol of hate we certainly had it now given Dylan Roof’s deployment of it as a backdrop to his angry-white-trash-loner memes.
As a white man with no cultural connection to the American south (as close as one can get to neutrality on this issue) I’ll offer my perspective. On the one hand, I have friends who I believe are truly sincere when they say for them the flag is not a symbol of hate, that it is a reminder of their heritage, in the same way immigrants might cleave to cultural symbology of “the old country”. For others it is a way to honor their direct ancestors who sacrificed their lives to protect their family from attack. These people are not closet racists just looking for a pretext to trot out passive-aggressive symbols of racism. But – I can see where the other side is coming from. After all, this flag WAS the battle emblem of a nation founded upon the principal that it is perfectly acceptable for one man to own another. Yes, secession was the result of many differences between the south and the Federal government but that doesn’t change the fact that the Confederate States of America’s constitution explicitly protected the practice of slavery. Saying the CSA was about much more than slavery, it was about a way of life, about state’s rights, etc. is all well and good, but that’s like a progressive/socialist arguing that the swastika should not offend anyone because Nazi Germany was about much more than just killing Jews… it was about deploying state programs to put people to work, swelling national pride behind a unified purpose of German greatness, and keeping people safe by outlawing private gun ownership – if but for the Holocaust that Hitler guy wasn’t so bad! (for the tone-deaf, this is sarcasm to make a point)
So to my southern friends I say this: yes, you have the right to display any symbol of your heritage you want, but you can’t feign ignorance about why some people might be offended or upset by it – the CSA’s pro-slavery stance has pooped in the punch bowl that is serving up symbols of your heritage. Sorry – feel free to commiserate with Hindus or Buddhists who had their beloved swastika ruined by the Nazi’s.
To all those that clamored, petitioned, and finally achieved the removal of the flag from state government grounds – congratulations. But now please stop. You’ve won. The movement is now getting ridiculous. People are calling for buildings, roads, and other public spaces to be renamed because they are named after someone who was openly racist, or who might have been racist, or who watched something racist on TV. People are even calling to have the corpses of former Confederate generals and soldiers dug up and removed from state-run grounds. People are also calling for the removal of the Jefferson Memorial because Jefferson owned slaves. Thomas Jefferson! They have a term for this: cultural genocide.
If the general rule used for honoring the dead is that that person never did or said anything bad or that might offend the sensibilities of someone in the future, well then I guess only saints need apply. Who shall cast the first stone? I dare say everyone who has done something memorable or praiseworthy also has had their share of dark moments. Let sleeping dogs lie and move on. You can’t change the past. It is equally important to recall the bad and the good in people – as the saying goes, if we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.