I am from the South, and I believe that the Confederate flag must go. Not in private homes — we still have rights, and can surround ourselves with whatever distasteful images we like. But the pain an image causes any group of Americans must supersede the rights of those that would keep it. And common sense tells us that the Confederate flag is a symbol of the Civil War, and slavery.
Anecdotal evidence (I have family that lives down south) suggests that South Carolina’s move to ban the flag from public spaces has not gone over well at all, and has caused a fair amount of outrage. South Carolina spearheads a growing list of states and companies that are moving to ban the Confederate flag. Some citizens — who see the flag as uniquely symbolic of the south — are furious that their rights have been impeded in this way.
They are donning Confederate flag tee shirts, putting flag bumper stickers on their cars, and waving them proudly from their homes. No one is going to tell us how to refer to ourselves and the land we love, their actions convey. In a world they see slipping away to progressive ideals, this is one more nail in the coffin of traditional America. They are frightened and angered as they see their rights slip away, and increasingly cannot recognize their own country.
I happen to understand African Americans’ sensitivity to the Confederate flag. Slavery was not so long ago that we can or should forget it or gloss over its horrors. We should never develop a conscious immunity to those symbols that point to slavery, or try to whitewash their meaning (excuse the pun). A Confederate flag does not mean “the south,” it means “the army that fought for the continuation of slavery.”
I live in a suburb outside Boston and African America families are few and far between here. I feel for a black man or woman I see alone in a mall or store or a park, so obviously different from the rest of us. What must that feel like? I wonder. In my children’s’ public schools, black children are bussed in to partake of our suburban educational offerings, but must get on the bus right after school for the long ride back to Boston. How must that feel?
Some very nice people still tell racist jokes between themselves, and it’s always shocking to overhear. How can a civilized person excuse their own abandonment of their own stated moral ideals for a laugh? If I were black, I would notice my difference in a town full of whites. And the Confederate flag would make me feel bad, and revive my ancestor’s wounds of captivity, inhumane treatment, family separation, and death. Is it any more complicated than that when evaluating the flag flap — putting ourselves in another’s shoes?
There is a huge caveat to my thoughts. The Gettysburg National Military Park will no longer be selling stand-alone items that have the confederate flag on them. A NY Post film critic says that the movie Gone with the Wind should be consigned to museums. Apple has removed all Civil War games from the app store. What?
To be sensitive to symbols of a shameful part of our history does not mean eliminating them. Should Germany get rid of the swastika image in all its textbooks because it is offensive? In a military context, such as the Gettysburg museum, the Confederate flag has context and is appropriately symbolic. Should Holocaust films be consigned to a museum? If so, millions would not have been so affected –— and educated — by Schindler’s List, and a host of other films that movingly portray the atrocities of Jewish genocide.
Let’s not go overboard with our adjustments to our society. That does not honor the victims of the horrific South Carolina church shooting, which sparked this whole debate. It is appropriate to remove, from public places, a flag that still brings hurt to many Americans. But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater — in a historical context, this symbol of a bygone era should live on, if only to remind us of how we should never be again.
Deirdre Reilly has written one humor book, and authored a syndicated family life column for Gatehouse Media for 13 years. She has won a Massachusetts Press Award for humor, her op-eds have been published in the Boston Herald and The Hartford Courant, and she has had short fiction published in literary journals. Deirdre was raised in Columbia, Md., and now lives outside Boston, Ma. She enjoys outdoor pursuits, and is obsessed with the care and happiness of a retired carriage horse named Nello that she bought for a few hundred dollars on a menopausal whim.