Flags

This isn’t about Camille.  It isn’t about Bob Jones University.  Instead, it’s about flags.

I know. I’m veering way off-topic here, but hey, I can, so I will. Besides, the subject has been obliquely mentioned in the comments.

Specifically, this is the flag I want to talk about for a bit.  As everyone on the planet knows, it’s the Confederate battle flag.  It’s controversial, and that’s putting it mildly.  As far as I can tell, it has pretty much always been controversial.  It didn’t just get that way in the last month.

I have heard “the flag is just a symbol of our Southern culture” until I want to scream.

I understand why people might think that – or why they might want to believe it.  After all, my son grew up watching this:

It was one of his favorite TV shows, and we severely limited his television viewing, so that is saying something. At the time, I thought nothing of letting him watch it.  It seemed clean and promoted values like honesty and loyalty.

And if we had it to do all over again, we probably wouldn’t restrict him from seeing it.  What we would do, though, is have a bit of a conversation about history.

The car is named “The General Lee.”  The Confederate battle flag (from henceforward to be referred to as “that godawful horrible flag”) is painted on the roof.  Clearly, this show is set in the South.  And the “good old boys” (the stars of the show) were never “meaning no harm.”  In fact, the “good old boys” are clean-cut nice-looking young men who play the role of Robin Hood.  They are for truth and right and goodness and all those fine qualities while battling against the likes of Boss Hogg (who looks a bit like a stereotypical plantation owner) and his sidekick, Rosco P. Coltrane, the corrupt sheriff.

In other words, the Confederate characters are the good guys, and the authority figures are corrupt and ludicrous and incompetent.

I grew up in the South, and I know that one reason that show struck a chord with people was that many small Southern towns had a Boss Hogg character who was, in fact, corrupt. And many Southerners felt like they were in a play where it was them (and truth and right and good) against the bumbling, no-good, idiotic Man.

But that is not the story of the Civil War. The Confederates were not the good guys, no matter how much Bob Jones University tried to make it seem in “Red Runs the River.” [See how I did that?  I got back on topic, didn’t I?  Well, sort of. ]

The Confederacy was abominable.  The Confederacy lost the war because it couldn’t win.  It couldn’t win because that kind of evil just cannot win in the long run.  It was based on human beings owning other human beings.

I don’t mean by that to imply that this soldier, who posed for a photo holding that godawful horrible flag was an evil, bad person. He very likely was not.

But the system was.

Consider this quote from the document where South Carolina announces its secession from the Union:

We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.

South Carolina’s big beef was not “states’ rights.”  It was actually quite the opposite. South Carolina’s big beef was the Fugitive Slave Act. They wanted the Northern free states to find and send back to them any slaves that escaped. Northerners were sort of reluctant to do that.  Yes, it was the law.  But it was one of those laws, like Prohibition, that becomes very difficult to enforce when a whole segment of the population just doesn’t want to cooperate.

And this non-cooperation infuriated South Carolina.  So they left the Union in a big huff.

Remember this when people tell you that the Civil War was not about slavery.

Yes, it was.

And that godawful horrible flag?

It was designed by William T. Thompson.  Here’s what he had to say about the flag he designed.

As a people we are fighting to maintain the heavenly ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause. Such a flag would be a suitable emblem of our young confederacy, and sustained by the brave hearts and strong arms of the south, it would soon take rank among the proudest ensigns of the nations, and be hailed by the civilized world as THE WHITE MAN’S FLAG.

Now, imagine for a minute that this is a photo of your ancestors.  The reality is, of course, that we have no idea who these people were other than that they were slaves, but just pretend that you did know for sure.

Imagine a world where you are taught from infancy that you are a member of the “inferior or colored race” – to quote Mr. Thompson [we can find lots and lots of quotes like that, by the way – there is no shortage of them ] and everything around you tells you that the white people are all superior. They have better schools, better homes, better jobs, better everything. God loves them better. Their supremacy is “heaven ordained.”  Suck it up.

And this godawful horrible flag is a symbol of that to you.

How welcome do you think you’d feel at this place?

This is not about banning that godawful horrible flag.  Nobody has banned anything.  I would strenuously object to any banning of TV shows, or flags, or anything.  The very idea gives me hives.

Walmart and Warner Brothers and NASCAR can do as they wish.  They are just following the whims of the free market, something that the conservative right-wing supposedly cherishes. Somebody at Walmart said, “You know what?  I think it would be a very good marketing step to quit selling that godawful horrible flag and make an announcement to that effect.”  So they did.

We’ll see if it turns out that it was a good marketing idea, or if it sucked dirt, or if they quietly put the merch back on the shelves six months from now with little fanfare.

But nobody is forcing anyone to do anything.

The beef is about that godawful horrible flag being flown on taxpayer-maintained public property. It’s about forcing the descendants of those folks in that photo above to pay to maintain a symbol that says to them that they are inferior and that their inferiority is “heaven-ordained.”

It’s about Dylann Roof seeing that symbol at the Capitol in SC and absorbing the notion that the state of South Carolina agrees that whites are better and that their supremacy is “heaven-ordained.”  Would the absence of that godawful horrible flag have made for a different outcome?  We’ll never know. One thing is for damn sure. It didn’t help.

I know that the officials of South Carolina don’t believe in white supremacy and that Dylann Roof did.  I understand that.  But the presence of that godawful horrible flag carries a message whether they want to understand it or not.

With our monuments lying about secession, our textbooks obfuscating what the Confederacy was about, and our army honoring its generals, no wonder so many Americans supported the Confederacy until last week. We can literally see the impact Confederate symbols and thinking had on Dylann Roof, but other examples abound. In his mugshot, Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, wore a neo-Confederate T-shirt showing Abraham Lincoln and the words, “Sic semper tyrannis!” When white students in Appleton, Wis., a recovering sundown town that for decades had been “all white” on purpose, had issues with Mexican American students in 1999, they responded by wearing and waving Confederate flags, which they already had at home, at the ready. Across the country, removing slavery from its central role in prompting the Civil War marginalizes African-Americans and makes us all stupid.

, in an article that appeared in the Chicago Tribune, which is well worth reading.

And that leads me right here.  I’m gonna quote the whole damn thing so you don’t have to go find it.

Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.

Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.

However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? 11 For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. 12 And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.

That is I Corinthians 8, the entire chapter.  Read it. And then read it again.  I don’t even believe in God, but this is good shit, folks, with the exception of verse 4b, 5, and 6, which could have been scratched.

It’s a piece of cloth, people.  You are “neither the worse if you do not fly/display it, nor the better if you do.”  You have liberty to do so. Nobody is stopping you.

But remember the symbolism. It might be “culture” to you, but it’s not “culture” to other people.  It’s white supremacy to them, “ordained by heaven.”  Do you really want to send that message?  Do you really want to say, “Fuck them. They need to understand that I don’t mean anything bad by flying this godawful horrible flag. I am just expressing my Southern culture”?

I have never owned a Confederate flag.  I am a Southerner, but in my mind, the image I get of somebody who displays/flies that godawful horrible flag is a guy whose bodily cleanliness is questionable, who lives in a broken-down trailer (like the image above), complete with beer cans in the yard and chewing tobacco in his jaw, who hasn’t worked a steady job in twelve years and who has a sixth grade education, and can’t spell “culture.”

But if I had some inclination to want to fly/display that godawful horrible flag, I would not do so. I would not do it because even if I was so misguided as to believe that it represented my “culture,” I know it doesn’t represent that for a great many other people – and  I do not wish to hurt people for no reason at all.

There is nothing wrong with history.  I love history.  I mean, I really, really love it.  And I am never in favor of censorship.  That godawful horrible flag is part of our collective history.  I know that. So put it in a museum where it belongs.  Let school children go look at it and marvel at how their ancestors could have been so wrong and how they know better and will do better.

And while you’re at it, South Carolina, think about changing the name of Wade Hampton High School.  I am a graduate and it’s embarrassing.