This will be quick because I just am wrapping up at work and I need to go home and do laundry before the kids are reduced to wearing fig leaves. Which I don’t have. I do have some celery sticks in the fridge but can’t see how that would work….
Okay, the issue of the Confederate flag, or more specifically the Battle Flag of Virginia, has been huge in the news since that young man entered a church in Charleston and assassinated eight people. There are those who should say it should go because it is a symbol of racism, and others say it should stay because it is a symbol of Southern pride and a part of the heritage of the South.
I’m going to get a bit outside of the argument here, so stay with me. Okay, I am going to say for the sake of argument that all of you who are in favor of KEEPING the flag are red-blooded, patriotic Americans and in general you support our troops and respect them, right? I would say that is generally true. That goes for Black, White, Asian, Latino, male, and female troops. Because if they put their lives on the line for their country, you have to respect them, right?
Now, go back to the beginning of the month. In the run-up to our Independence Day celebrations, you may have seen some signs on the lawns of some veterans. The signs were like this:
So, basically, this is a sign that tells you that a combat veteran lives here. He (or she) has suffered the trauma of war and hearing the sound of concussive fireworks could cause him mental distress such as a flashback, and he can have physical symptoms such as panic attacks, a migraine, or other serious ill effects.
Now, assuming your locality allows citizens to play with fireworks, you and your family had planned to have a fun time in the cul-de-sac, allowing the kids to play with sparklers and small stuff, and you were going to let off larger fireworks so everyone could ooh and ahh and the kids would clap their hands over their ears and the dog would go hide under the deck.
Your neighbor has this sign in his yard. You all know each other well enough to say hi and you babysat his dog one time when he had to go out of town. You like him, you respect his position as a veteran, so even though you have the RIGHT to shoot off fireworks, out of CONCERN and RESPECT for his background and his experiences you decide to refrain this year so that you won’t cause him distress. Instead, you have a barbecue in the yard and go watch the city’s fireworks display in the evening. Just because there was no trauma to YOU, does not mean you can’t be sensitive to others who have different experiences than you. It’s called not being a dick.
What does this have to do with the confederate flag? Well, it’s all about what the flag means to you versus what it means to a Black person. In the above example, for you, fireworks represent fun, family, and freedom. To your neighbor, it represents noise, chaos, and the memory of war. The same is with the flag. YOU never had slaves, YOU never kept a Black man from a restaurant, and you don’t relate this flag to hatred and enslavement. But for your Black neighbor….
Even though he (or she) did not grow up in slavery, he has been harassed by police, has been followed around in a department store, has been stopped on the street for no reason, has suffered from the leftover legacy of slavery, has had men who ARE racist take pictures of themselves in white robes with that flag proudly displayed in the background. It is undeniable that the history of the flag is steeped in the horror of slavery; if you deny that then just stop reading because I can’t get through to you. But if you understand the past of the flag but simply have difficulty seeing how it relates to the present, please keep reading.
That means that you, the white dude from the South who thinks of the flag in the historical sense, and the Black dude who thinks of it as a reflection of racist attitudes, have totally different perceptions of that flag. Now, if you are NOT a racist and you have friends, neighbors, school chums, co-workers, military veteran neighbors, etc., who are Black, maybe, just maybe, even if you don’t see the flag as a symbol of racism, you will decide to refrain from displaying it because, as a compassionate human being, you want to avoid causing emotional pain to your fellow human beings. There is NO doubt that it causes pain. There is NO doubt that 99% of Black people who see this flag react viscerally and have a negative understanding of it. You see Stars and Bars. In their mind’s eye they see this:
Pain from the distant past (slavery), pain from the not so distant past (pre-Civil Rights era) pain from the present (Charleston).
Because of this, because of this deep and grinding pain that is associated with this flag, do you think that you can find it in your heart to refrain from flying it or displaying it, even though you have the RIGHT to. Do you think you can open your heart to understanding another person’s pain, another race’s pain, even though you have never whipped a slave or lynched anyone?
If you can do this, if you can understand the other person’s point of view, your fellow American’s point of view, your fellow human being’s point of view, then you are well on your way to being a compassionate human being.
And if you decide to fly the flag anyway and you don’t care about the pain it causes in the hearts and minds of your fellow human beings, well, you sir, are a dick.