Lawmakers 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.
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.