It’s about time

flagLawmakers across the southeast are scrambling to remove the Confederate battle flag from capitol grounds and automobile tags, all motivated by a bigoted young white man’s hateful murders of nine black persons who had met to study the Bible and pray at Charleston’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

It’s about time. Whether the flags will actually be removed or just become the subject of more heated debate and calls for appreciation of “our proud southern heritage,” at least more people have come to recognize the stars and bars for what they have become: a symbol of racism and bigotry that longs for the “good old days” when white folks had all the power and black folks “knew their place.”

About a decade ago, when I was still editor of the Biblical Recorder, South Carolina lawmakers were being pressed to remove the Confederate flag from the capitol grounds. I wrote an editorial endorsing the flag’s removal — and got more hate mail over than one piece than anything else I wrote in nine years as editor. People (actually, all of them were men) wrote from as far away as Australia, offering elaborate rationalizations for why the flag should be displayed as a badge of honor.

Many people don’t appreciate the depth of feeling and fear in the hearts of those who see the flag as a link to a long-ago past that they wish for but can no longer enjoy. I grew up as a cultural racist and had a Confederate flag in my room — but I was fortunate enough to experience a broader world, to mature, and to recognize that the flag has come to be identified far more with the ideals of the KKK than any noble southern ideals.

No amount of rhetoric about regional pride or southern history can change the meaning the Confederate flag has taken on as a racist symbol. Whatever other issues southern states had before attempting to secede and starting America’s most unfortunate war, the heart of the fight was far from just: southerners wanted to maintain the ignoble ability to own and exploit slaves.

From a third century synagogue in Capernaum.

From a third century synagogue in Capernaum.

Did you know that the swastika, in itself a pleasing geometric design, was often included in mosaic floors or carved decorations of Jewish synagogues? But Hitler took an innocent design and turned it into a symbol of unwarranted hate. However honorable the Confederate flag may have been 150 years ago, it has become forever tarnished by its adoption as a racist emblem.

Even NASCAR, which may have a greater concentration of southern “good old boys” than any other sport, has long banned the Confederate flag from race car paint schemes, track decorations, or any item of merchandise sold onsite. In 2012, the organization even declined to allow golfer Bubba Watson to drive the “General Lee” Dodge from the old “Dukes of Hazard” TV show around the track in Phoenix because it has a Confederate flag painted on its roof. NASCAR does not ban fans from displaying flags on their motor homes and probably couldn’t from a legal point of view, but at least they’re making an effort. NASCAR officials have joined the chorus of individuals and organizations calling for the removal of the flag from South Carolina’s capitol grounds.

I suspect there may be more hateful responses to this post — and every one of them further testimony that the old sign of division has taken on far too much baggage to continue flying.

3 Comments

  1. Not to nitpick, but using the flag logic as pertaining to the old confederacy of 11 states, whose symbols will forever stand for slavery, perhaps it would be in order to rearrange the American flag so as to properly punish those offending states. Using the space taken up by the nine rows of stars, for the original colonies there would be only six stripes (for the northern non-seceding colonies). There could be five rows of three stars and four rows of six for the 39 “good” states after subtracting the secessionists, but any other arrangement could be used. Silly? Of course it is, just as silly as the constant knee-jerk reaction in this country when something the elitists decide calls for one group to be punished because another group claims to be offended. My great-grandfather (wounded once and nearly dying of disease once) and two great-uncles volunteered in the Union Army even though, living in Kentucky, they couldn’t be drafted. They weren’t even born in this country, much less slave-owners, so I have no axe to grind. Instead of constantly haranguing one group or another, it would be better if everyone from an early age were simply taught what’s important and what’s not. Flags mean different things to different people, just as the scriptures do, so why not teach that truth (I hope) and stop going ape every time something drastic happens.

    • This is probably the first time I have ever disagreed with Dr. Cartledge. I believe the flag for some may stand for bigotry; however, for those who lost their lives and for their family members, the flag stands in respect of the many soldiers who lost their lives in that war. Wars are between governments and politicians, not people.

  2. The supreme irony in the flag debacle is that ordinary joes all across the South and probably much of the North are now making that extra effort to display the stars-and-bars as flagrantly as possible, an in-your-face to Walmart and all the other self-righteous makers and retailers of flags, the furnishing of which will now be a great source of income for another group of both manufacturing outfits and retailers for the flags. The Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution made it plain that the federal government must not meddle in the rights of states to govern themselves, as both the current executive and judicial branches do extensively, as long as no harm is done. Translated on a personal level, the average guy will spit back (or worse) when he’s spit upon. The outsiders who attempt by any method such as boycott to tell South Carolinians what they may and may not do only stiffen the spit-back. The colonies were loyal English entities until, perceiving undue mistreatment, they spit back. SC did the same vis-a-vis the USA in 1860. Both matters were settled, with great suffering all around. In both cases, the best possible result happened. Now, people are entitled to their approaches (and passed-down grief) concerning both matters and should cut everyone else some slack instead of constantly whining about being offended, with the tail wagging the dog in most instances. I wouldn’t fly the stars-and-bars even if I lived in SC but I fly the stars-and-stripes on my front porch every day, whether anyone of any color likes it or not.

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