Monday, July 06, 2015

I Guess I'm Gonna Talk About That Flag

I don't glower with contempt and hatred when I see people with that flag on the bumper of their trucks, or stitched to their jackets, or even flying in their yards.

I wince.

See, the thing is, I used to be one of those people.  I had, for a long time, a giant Confederate flag on the wall of my room. And I had Confederate flag stickers on many things. I even had a Confederate flag baseball cap.

From the time I was about fifteen, until I was well old enough to know better, I too thought the Civil War was fought over States Rights. I also would argue (with anyone foolish enough to try to set me straight) about how many Southerners owned slaves, and how the North was just as bad, and what happened to Atlanta, and Reconstruction, and how that flag stood for pride in the South, and nothing else.

And the thing is, I believed all of this. I knew all this was the real history, the stone truth,

Then, one day, one of my professors -- a professor I respected, a professor I admired, a professor whose opinion counted with me -- during a conference in her office, that professor glanced at the decal of that flag I had stuck on one of my notebooks, winced, and paused, and then continued with the conference.

That was all that happened. She very politely did not call me out.  She didn't ask why someone like me, someone she knew was intelligent and well-read and ought to know better had a symbol of racism and racist hate on the notebook which was filled with notes for her class.  She said nothing at all.

I was made uneasy, though.  Uneasy enough to start thinking about whether people who had, for years now, been arguing with me about the role of the South in that war might, well, might --

-- might be right.

It was a fracture.  It was a crack in my stubborn, thick-headed certainty that I was right.

And all y'all know what they say about cracks -- they let the light in.

I started reading with more of an open mind.  I started listening to other voices.

I didn't change my mind right away.  But I did change my mind.

I took the flag off my wall.

So when people -- my students, my fellow Southerners -- argue with me, in their ignorance, about what that flag means, I don't hold them in contempt.  I don't hate them.

I do feel sorry for them.  And I hold out hope for them, that they will open their minds, that they will, one day, be willing to learn better.

It's no sin to be ignorant.  But I think it is, perhaps, once the path has been shown to you, a sin to stay willfully ignorant.


Fie upon this quiet life! said...

I know what you mean. Here's my experience: My dad had a confederate flag bumper sticker, and he even had some confederate dollar bills. Even though we lived in the north, he was very racist and held on to symbols of supremacy. But then, a remarkable thing happened later in life. He started working with an African American dude named Charlie, and they slowly became best friends. (This was after that car with the flag on it was long wrecked.) My dad's opinion about blacks changed as soon as he was friends with one person. It was pretty remarkable. Maybe a little cliche, but also great to witness an actual change of heart.

I grew up republican, mildy racist, and super-dooper Christian (Catholic). All my education led me to a different path of liberalism, class and race consciousness, and agnosticism (tending toward atheism). I'm a lot happier now -- less hateful, more compassionate, and more open to the world. For that, I'm thankful.

It's pretty great that your professor's reaction had such an impact on you. Her ability to not say something is remarkable, but she made a huge difference nonetheless.

D Shannon said...

Technically, South Carolina's declaration of secession indicates that "States' rights" played a role in starting the Civil War. Specifically, South Carolina hated that other states tried to exercise "states' rights." The declaration even condemned fifteen specific states for doing so:

"The General Government, as the common agent, passed laws to carry into effect these stipulations of the States. For many years these laws were executed. But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution. The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them. In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed, and in none of them has the State Government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution. The State of New Jersey, at an early day, passed a law in conformity with her constitutional obligation; but the current of anti-slavery feeling has led her more recently to enact laws which render inoperative the remedies provided by her own law and by the laws of Congress. In the State of New York even the right of transit for a slave has been denied by her tribunals; and the States of Ohio and Iowa have refused to surrender to justice fugitives charged with murder, and with inciting servile insurrection in the State of Virginia. Thus the constituted compact has been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding States, and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation. "


"This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety." [In other words, some northern states let black people vote, and we don't like their doing so.]

As for the flag and "southern pride" -- did you know that one out of every three Southerners who fought in the Civil War did so on the side of the Union?

D Shannon said...

Sorry, but I had to share this flag-related post: snarky comments on all state flags.

Can someone work on changing Arkansas' flag? The comment: "This looks like a design for a Confederate ketchup bottle."

At least my home states' flag is merely ugly. It's just another of those blue flags with too many pictures on it.