The Flip Side

30 06 2015

Following the massacre of the Charleston Nine, the buzz is all about the Confederate flag. Everybody is weighing in on the issue, and most of the talk is that the flag is a symbol of hatred and inequality that must not be sanctioned by the state. For the record, that’s what I believe. Yet there is another side, one that I have been searching for so that I can get inside of the mind of those who believe it would be wrong to take down the flag. We’ve heard the line, “The flag is a symbol of our heritage” given in favor of keeping the flag on our statehouse grounds. That, however, is only part of the reason why the Confederate flag is seen so often around the South.
First, it’s cool. At least that is the view of many youth. Rebellion is what teenagers do best, and what better sign than the rebel flag. To many Southerners, the Confederate flag is our version of the skull and crossbones. Skulls, that very symbol of death, now adorn every bit of a child’s wardrobe: shirts, shoes, lunchboxes, and backpacks. And as children progress from elementary school to middle and high school, the skull becomes too childish. They start looking for another symbol of their new spirit of independence and defiance. Some white kids latch onto a more dangerous symbol, that of the battle flag of the Confederacy. I’ve seen this happen. Several years ago, I had a sweet kid in my fifth grade class. She was smart, tender-hearted. A good kid. She still is. But just this past week I have seen her posing in front of an image of the Confederate flag. If I were to ask her, I’m certain she would tell me that the flag doesn’t symbolize hatred to her. She has black friends. She is not a racist. So why does she stand behind (or in front of) the Confederate flag? I believe it is because she thinks it is cool to rebel against what society is telling her.
And that leads into another key aspect of the Southern psyche: we are a very independent people. As a whole, we don’t like people, especially the Federal government, telling us what to do. We are well aware that our state is often the butt of many jokes around our nation. The Confederate flag, to many, is a way to say, “In your face, United States.” It is the sign of Southern independence, albeit a short-lived independence. So when a Southerner cries, “Heritage!” what they are really saying is what many a child has yelled at the older sibling: “You’re not the boss of me.” Not a very mature stance, for sure, but there you have it. And although we should rail against stereotypes, the common image of the Confederate flag supporter is that of a poorly educated, low-income white person. And here I am struggling not to use a stereotypical epithet.
There is another, more mature reason some people have for not taking down the Confederate flag, one held by very conservative, Libertarian types. The line of thinking goes thusly: When will it stop? How far is the federal government going to step into the rights of the state? We have already heard rumblings that Confederate memorials and statues need to come down. How far will this go? Will the rights of the individual and/or state be trampled on due to popular opinion?

The flag issue is heating up. There is a definite backlash in progress. Friday evening, I saw a gathering of vehicles in an empty parking lot. As I watched, people started unfurling Confederate flags, pulling one up a flag pole erected on the back of a pick-up truck while others were draped over the sides of the vehicles. Last night, I watched a video of a young black woman who very deliberately climbed the flagpole on the state grounds and lowered the Confederate flag, submitting gracefully to the police who handcuffed her and led her away. Emotions are strong. Whatever our opinions, however, we need to try to see the issue from the other viewpoint and discuss them peacefully and rationally. Only then will we be able to come to a consensus as to what is right, what is good, what will lead to healing of our people, our state, our nation. I believe we are on the cusp of the Civil Rights Movement, Part II. How we work through it will determine the course of our lives for many years to come.

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