We bought our first home, here in Memphis, more than a decade ago, and we celebrated home ownership by handing our kids a big bucket of sidewalk chalk, representing all the pastel colors of the rainbow. Knock yourselves out, Kids, we said, now there’s no landlord to say ‘no’. And we left them to their own devices and the driveway.
A couple hours later, they called us from the house to see their handiwork. Beaming with pride, they led us to a driveway covered side-to-side and to the street in pink, yellow, and robin’s-egg-blue swastikas. They were so proud.
We lived in India in the mid-1990’s and again just after the turn of this century. India surrounded my kids during some of their most formative years and shaped the way they see the world. In India, swastikas are everywhere. Chiseled into bricks, drawn onto road signs, stenciled on the doors of shoe stores and pharmacies, the swastika is ubiquitous in India, and possessed of a very long, very not-negative history. Four-thousand-year-old swastikas show up on clay seals unearthed from the Harappan civilization. Speaking of landlords, the owner of our apartment in Pune had painted a red swastika on the wall of our bedroom. Interpreted iconically or aniconically, the swastika in India indicates all sorts of goodness: divine energy, celestial order, happiness, etc., etc., etc.
Which is why we did not sweep our driveway clean. Who cares what the neighbors think, after all? We know the swastika doesn’t necessarily scream Nazis! So the folks on the block who might insist that the Easter-hued swastikas on our driveway are inappropriate, or who might demand we remove the swastikas from our driveway on the grounds that they represent hate, murder, and one of the greatest evils humanity has wreaked, are simply ignorant of what the swastika really represents.
Actually, here’s what really happened: we grabbed two brooms and swept that driveway clean in a trice. Then we had a solemn talk with our kids that was far too late coming.
The governor of Alabama has ordered the removal of the confederate flag from his state capitol. Virginia is going to eliminate confederate insignia from license plates. Wal Mart and other vendors have decided to stop selling the confederate flag. Manufacturers are ending production. All good moves.
South Carolina for some reason thinks it has to have a debate before it can behave humanely, so it has postponed what must be inevitable while hither and yon people dream up reasons that the symbol of the confederacy must flutter at everyone like a big, wet raspberry.
I can’t hear another person cite history in defense of flying the confederate flag over government buildings, or in defense of posting the confederate flag in official government space. I can’t hear another person try to explain what the confederate flag really means (as opposed to what it obviously means: pride in a culture that would enslave and murder humanity). Unequivocally, my kids are not Nazis. This existential fact does not provide a rationale for leaving purple swastikas all over the driveway.
We in the South have made the mistake of decorating the driveway with something that speaks horror and shame more loudly than it says anything else. Please, please, please, let’s just sweep the drive clean, and then have the solemn talk that’s too late coming.