Friday, September 2, 2011

Fight racist attitudes, not symbols...

This morning, a Facebook friend of mine posted an article about Lexington, Virginia, a city near and dear to my heart.  The article was about the city council deciding not to allow the Confederate flag to be flown on city owned flagpoles.  My Facebook friend made the comment that the flag is a part of history and sometimes it is appropriate to display it.  I agreed, because I don't believe that the flag is racist.

It wasn't long before a black man commented on our discussion, reminding us of how much his people suffered during the Civil War and how, to black people, that flag is akin to the Nazi flag to the Jews.  This person rather self-righteously inferred that we were racist for thinking that the Confederate flag is a part of history that should be preserved.  He seems to think the flag is a part of history that should be buried.

I found it interesting that this poster also brought up the swastika, which is linked with Nazi-ism and fascism.  The swastika has been around for ages and was co-opted and bastardized by one group of people to represent something other than what it was originally intended to symbolize.  Likewise, the Confederate flag--aka the stars and bars-- is just one of many different flags that were used during the Confederate era.  It just happens to be the one flag that people associate with the South during the Civil War era, which is unfortunately when black people were enslaved.

I would never deny that black people have suffered throughout American history.  But slavery is an age old condition that has been around since the dawn of man and still goes on today, even in the United States.  It's not an American invention, nor is it an invention of white people.  What's more, while black people have historically suffered and continue to suffer today, they are not the only ones.  They aren't now and they weren't during the Civil War!

Never did I once comment that I felt the Confederate flag was a flag we should honor, per se.  I simply commented that the flag is part of history and history should be preserved.  If it isn't, how can we learn from the past and make progress toward the future?  If we don't talk about the bad things that happened in history, how can we prevent them from happening again?

I don't like the idea of burying language or ideas or symbols, because I think we can learn from them.  And I think that words and symbols are ultimately neutral and innocent.  It's the people and attitudes behind them that make them good or bad.  If I took a Confederate flag to an African tribe that had never seen it before, would the people in that tribe think the flag was racist?  Probably not, because they had never been taught to associate that flag with racism.  Some people choose to be offended by the stars and bars because they have been taught that it represents oppression and hatred.  But the flag doesn't have that power.  It's the people behind the flag that have that power and promote bigoted attitudes.  And it's the people and their attitudes that we should be concerned about, not the symbol... although I'm sure the symbol is easier to suppress than people are.

Just as the swastika was ripped off from Hinduism to represent hatred of Jewish people, so too were the stars and bars ripped off by certain people to represent "white supremacy".  Who's to say that those symbols can't be reclaimed or even repurposed?  It happens in language all the time.  There was a time when the word "fag" was not affiliated with the homophobic slur it is today.  That word actually has a lot of meanings, but only one of them is potentially offensive.  Should we let the offensive use of that word win out over all the other uses for it?

Anyway... it wasn't my intention to belittle anyone.  People have the right to be offended about whatever they want to be offended about.  But I don't think they should force other people to share their offense.  This is America where we presumably have freedom of speech.  My black friends have every right to think whatever they want about the Confederate flag.  And as a fellow American, I have a right to my own thoughts.


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