African-American Thoughts On The Confederate Flag [OPINION]
I have some African-American friends who agreed to give me their thoughts on the Confederate Flag. Out of respect for their security and privacy, I have left them anonymous.
There has been much debate over the years about that flag, but not nearly as much as this past week. With the advent of social media, the discussion was immediate, though we are as still as far from an understanding as ever.
On the KTDY website, I posted an opinion from a Southern born/raised white woman on the subject, and when I shared that post on my personal Facebook page, many people chimed in.
I have to say that I was shocked at some of the people who came out in defense of the flag. Now don't get me wrong: I don't think that the Confederate Flag should be banned; I just think that it shouldn't fly over government buildings. I also understand taking pride in your heritage, and in your ancestry.
But, I must ask, at what point do we decide when the actions of our ancestors, if they were on the wrong side of history, become an embarrassment? I get the fact that people are proud of their great-great-(great)-grandfather for being brave and fighting in the Civil War. But when that fight was a fight to keep a whole race of people in chains, where is the pride in that?
Okay, okay, I hear you: the Civil War was about states' rights. Yes, but as one of my friends said "even though that statement is true, it is not intellectually honest".
This chart from the Civil War Trust website lists, according to the secession declarations of the states listed, how much of those documents was dedicated to each reason.
If this war was about any states' rights, it would have been the states' rights to keep slavery, in my opinion (because, actually, NO ONE KNOWS. Experts have been debating this subject since the war was still being waged).
The discussion on my Facebook page last night was mostly civil, with one guy typing with sharper keys than the rest of us (at one point, he said " the irony of a 26 year old owning both of you is classic". That made both of us giggle). But that conversation made me think this: "these 'supporters' must not have any black friends. Or, they have no empathy." I figured it would be one or the other, because, as an adult, how can you have friends of who's feelings you are totally ignorant?
When I was growing up, in the Abbeville and Henry communities, there was an air of racism. In my youth, I can count on one hand the number of times my parents used the "N" word; it was a word they would not allow us to use. But people around us used it freely, even my relatives, and I was too afraid to do anything to correct/stop them. Am I proud of this admission? Absolutely not. I am mortified by it, but I know that it is healthy for me, and for my community, to admit it now. I have grown very much in that arena since then by doing two things: moving away from the South, and making friends with two people you'll hear from in just a moment.
So, when did I realize how wrong I was? It was when Russell Citizen died.
Russell Citizen was a black kid who was in 2nd grade with me at Henry High School. When I made it to 7th grade, Russell hadn't progressed very far; I think he was in 4th grade by that time.
He should have been in a Special Education system of some sort, but, back then, Henry didn't have that option, so he failed. A lot.
Russell did find his place to shine, though: he was the manager for the basketball team. He always had towels and water ready for us. He would cheer when we did well, and would mope when we lost (he did a LOT of moping).
And then, one day, someone decided to let him experiment with alcohol (and, rumor has it, drugs of some sort).
His brother found him the next morning when he tried to open the front door of the house that they lived in. From what I was told, the door was too heavy to push open, so he went out another door to see what was blocking the front door. It was Russell, dead. His "friend" had dumped him there when he became unresponsive. And if memory serves me right, he was 17 years old.
When word spread of his death, I felt pain. And soon after, remorse. Remorse for the way I had treated him, and the way I had let other people treat him, without trying to stop it. I just went right along with it.
It was that pain and remorse that was confusing me: how could I feel pain for someone who was dismissed by so many?
Well, that's when it hit me: we are all one. We are the Human Race.
After that realization, I started to distance myself from conversations that turn to the "N" word, and will now let people know that I won't hear that word. From that point on, I have much more empathy for my fellow man.
I never felt a connection to the Confederate Flag, even though I was born and raised (for the most part) in the South. I don't think that I ever had a hat, or belt buckle, or sticker, or piece of clothing that featured that symbol (save for a Dukes of Hazzard shirt), and I didn't really understand the "heritage" part of the flag. I always thought of it as a sign of "no blacks allowed" or "we hate blacks", used by groups like the KKK.
Now that I am older, I understand the "heritage" part that some people feel, but, as I said earlier, I don't understand how they can be proud of their ancestors for fighting to keep slavery (oh, that's right, I am sorry: states' rights).
With the recent shooting in South Carolina, the debate has resurfaced. This time, with the help of social media, it has returned with a vengeance. It is in front of our faces several times an hour these days, unless you have all of your electronics in the "OFF" mode.
After last night's Facebook discussion, I decided to ask a few of my African-American friends for their opinion on that flag, and how it makes them feel.
I'll start with the "Lieutenant": the Lieutenant and I met in the Army. He was a helicopter pilot, and I was a helicopter mechanic. Now, the officers and the enlisted men are not supposed to "hang out", but we hit it off as friends and were a little more "chummy" than the regulations allowed, but we developed a friendship that has lasted now going on 25 years.
I sent him a message, asking for his honest opinion on the subject, and if he'd answer a few questions.
He started with this:
Yes, I will, but honestly, this conversation makes me uncomfortable. I usually keep these feelings, this information, to myself.
Well, thank you for agreeing to share with me.
I trust you as a friend so I'm happy to talk straight with you about it.
How do you feel when you see the Confederate Flag?
The word that comes to mind is "uncomfortable".
You are a Harvard graduate, and a West Point graduate: what do you think when you hear the argument that the flag is about "heritage, not hate", and that the Civil War was fought over states' rights?
That "heritage" that they speak of, in my eyes, is a heritage of hate. That flag, when it was designed, was to go to war to keep slavery. Since then, it has been used at lynchings, race riots, segregation rallies, and as a symbol of the KKK. I equate it to the Nazi Flag; they both scream "hate".
As far as the argument of the war being over states' rights, well, that argument exasperates me. I think it's coded language; that war was precisely about the states' rights to maintain slavery. Just read the Declarations of Secession from the Southern states. That argument isn't intellectually honest.
Have you ever been a victim of racism, or a racist attack?
I have had two very negative encounters. One in Anniston, Alabama, one in Goldsboro, NC. I was a teenager during both incidents. I would rather not get into specifics of those incidents, but I hope that those people grew to know Jesus, and to learn to love their fellow man.
Do you think that, by sharing your opinions, feelings and experiences that, maybe one day, we'll all be able to get along, and racism will be a thing of the past?
I think that the dialogue is important, and the more we talk about it - not argue, mind you - but have intellectual, heartfelt discussions and get to know what each other is thinking and feeling, the closer we'll get to ridding this world of hate.
Well, I have the same hopes, Lieutenant. Thanks for trusting me with your opinion, and for taking the time to share.
We've been friends a long time! That means a lot to me!! I hope that this dialogue helps.
My other friend is an African-American "Southern Belle" of a lady, living in Fayetteville, North Carolina. I asked her to share what she felt about the Confederate Flag, and here's what she wrote:
John, you always depend on me to be honest and direct, so here goes: That flag offends me to the point that at times I've been tempted to scratch it, throw blood red paint on it and, if had the ability, piss on it. I've always considered it a terrorist symbol. It's a symbol of our country being divided because some people considered us less than human.
Those who proudly wave it have always seemed to be full of hatred because they feel as though they lost their "white privilege." My response is that they had a 400 year head start. If they are still fighting to catch up, they have only their gene pool to blame.
People say blacks are just as prejudiced. To which I reply "I'm only what you make me." The most prejudiced person I ever met was a 92 year old black (man). After talking to him, I completely understood.
As you well know, I'm not very prejudiced. (Note: She is married to a white man) I take folks at face value, but I have been surprised when casual acquaintances have let me know in no uncertain terms that that no matter how much I achieve, I'm still "just a n****r." I'm always stunned - even after 50+ years. It still hurts and I still want to spit on that flag whenever I encounter it.
I've un-friended about 6 people this week due to their comments on the SC murders. They need to put a straight jacket on that monster. I don't hate him and I do think he's crazy, but to me all racists are crazy. They've ignored hard science that unequivocally proves that race is a non-factor. We simply look different on the outside.
So yes, I loathe the confederate flag and wish they were all burned. It's a part of our country heritage of which we should be ashamed.
I did an ancestry DNA test and I'm over 70% European, so what the heck? I don't espouse waving a Black Power flag. I loathe Rev Al Sharpton. I'm just like you and I don't need a reminder that there are those who still hold me in disdain. I don't accept it. We were not invited here, we were kidnapped and tortured and tested as animals. As hard as I try to move on, some ignorant *sswipe brings it all back by proudly displaying that flag. It is time to put it in the Smithsonian with all the other relics.
So yes, I guess you could say I hate that flag because it reminds me of hate, separation and genocide. I hate it! I despise it! It enrages me! I literally, really literally, have a visceral reaction when I see it. I am from the South, and there is no "Southern pride" associated with the confederate flag, it's an abomination.
So, if someone can explain to me why anyone would still want to wave this flag, I would love to hear an honest answer. I am hoping that the answer they (attempt to) give is stronger and more convincing than the words my friends shared above. Remember, though, that "Because that's how I was raised" isn't an answer: it's a cop-out. Grow up, find your heart, and start thinking for yourself.