So, here we are, my first legitimate blog post, now that an introductory post is out of the way. I wasn’t sure I would post, but here I am, just going to discuss race and Confederate flag. What could possibly go wrong here? Maybe this will end up being my only legitimate post. Time will tell.
Caveats first. I am a White male, born and raised in a northern State. If you’re fond of argumentum ad hominem and willing to dismiss my views solely on this basis, then you may not want to bother reading any further. If you’re willing to keep reading, though, I promise I will try to discuss this topic kindly, especially as it relates to race. I recognize, though, that my own background and prejudices cannot help but color my views, no matter how objective I aim to be. I believe, ultimately, I would be doing more of a disservice to avoid hard or controversial topics. Also, maybe using my privilege to speak out is a good use of that privilege.
The highlights of what I’m about to get into: 1) Racism still exists in the U. S. in multiple forms and at multiple levels, impacting the lives of everyone. 2) The Confederate flag is legitimately a symbol of this racism. 3) The government has no business allowing this symbol to be flown on their behalf on government property. 4) If you think this is a matter of being overly sensitive or political correctness, your privilege may be showing, and you may even be violating a spiritual principle suggested by Paul in Romans.
First, regarding racism, I am going to have to ask you to allow that racism exists in the United States in the 21st century. Most people are willing to admit that overt, obvious racism exists. By that, I mean the kind of racism where someone openly says, “I hate ___ people” and/or actively works to hurt or disadvantage ___ people.
However, I’m asking you to allow that other forms of racism exist as well. By that, I mean implicit, covert racism, as well as structural, institution racism. If you’re familiar with much of the psychological research on stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination, then you’ll know that, even when we overtly want to believe we don’t see color and that we treat all people the same, we usually do not. For example, healthcare providers prescribe differently, and people assign criminal sentences differently, based on race. For more information on implicit bias, here is a nice resource from Ohio State University.
I’m also asking that you allow that systemic factors work in favor of or against people based on the color of their skin. For example, research by the Prison Policy Initiative, based in large part on information from the DOJ, would suggest Blacks are incarcerated at staggeringly higher rates than Whites. Similarly, according to data from Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U. S. Census presented by Think Progress, a White male with a high school diploma has just as much chance of employment as a Black male with an associate’s degree.
These findings personally make me very uncomfortable and suggest to me that something is very wrong here. Now, I know that the vague boogeyman of statistics (as in “lies, damned lies, and statistics”) can be warped to serve most any worldview. That is why I deliberately cited ones derived from more neutral, federal sources of data. I believe, if one chooses to respond to statistics such as these, one ultimately must decide either: a) there is something inherent in the character and/or genetic make-up of Black people that makes them deserving of such things (e.g., “Black people just aren’t as smart and well-qualified for employment as White people” or “Black people are naturally more prone to be criminals than White people”), or b) there is still something going on system wide in our culture in the 21st century that continues to make life more difficult and less equitable for people of color, solely because of the color of their skin. I assume that most people will select option “b,” as most people recognize option “a” as overtly racist. Even if you say something like, “Really, though, this is just a reflection of SES differences,” or “This is just a reflection of the Black culture that eschews education and embraces thug/rap/prison culture,” (which, by the way, I vehemently disagree with you on, but is well beyond the scope and time of this post), I’d still think you have to confront why being Black would be associated with SES differences or a particular culture, and the why is likely to end up tracing its roots back to systemic factors, such as differences in public housing policies, segregation laws, slavery, etc.
THE CONFEDERATE FLAGS SYMBOLIZES RACISM
So, allowing that racism of all shapes and sizes still exists and plagues our country, why should we continue to let one of the most recognizable, notorious symbols of racism fly on government property? Wait, wait, I jumped the gun here. Perhaps you’re saying, “The Confederate flag is about heritage, not hate. The Civil War was primarily about States’ rights, economics, or any other number of reasons besides slavery. This is about honoring those who fought for a way of life…” and so on and so forth the arguments go. Most all of these arguments are premised on the fact that the Civil War was not about slavery.
However, I will assert that this is not true. Unfortunately, most history classes and textbooks have rewritten history, painting slavery as a secondary cause of the war. When one takes the time to go straight to the source (i.e., primary historical documents), such as South Carolina Declaration of Causes of Secession or The Texas Ordinance of Secession, one quickly sees the central role slavery played in the Confederate States seceding and the Civil War. Of course, there were well-intentioned individuals who fought for the Confederacy for a variety of other reasons. But the war wasn’t fought for those other reasons. It was started over and ultimately about slavery. (And as far as States’ rights, my reading of the South Carolina Declaration makes it seem as if they were actually against the States’ rights of northern States, that they were angry about anti-slavery laws passed there).
So, here we have in the Confederate flag, a flag representing the cause of slavery, the cause of Blacks being inferior to Whites, the cause of racism – it’s hard to imagine something more racist than saying a group of people is so inferior they are worthy of being treated as less than human slaves (approximately three-fifths of a human according to the Constitution). Perhaps that is why is has been so popular with admittedly racist groups and organizations over the years.
Just like soldiers fighting in the Civil War, people may fly the flag for a variety of reasons that they claim have nothing to do with racial views. And, sometimes, I believe that they mean this sincerely, even if they are misinformed. When it comes to an individual’s freedom of speech, he or she has the right to fly the Confederate flag on his or her private property. Admittedly, I find it distasteful, often ignorant, and always an eye sore on pick-up truck (I don’t mean to stereotype, but it does seem to always be a pick-up truck, never a Prius). But, that’s the point of the 1st Amendment, isn’t it: to protect speech, especially speech someone else does not like.
THE FLAG DOESN’T BELONG ON GOVERNMENT PROPERTY
However, when flown on State government property in South Carolina, the flag takes on a much different meaning. It is hard to see it as anything but a symbol of racism, of the years and years of injustices endured by Blacks (really, by people of all non-White races). And if you’re Black, it is especially hard to see it as anything but racist. Add to that the continued racism described above, and the Confederate flag being flown on government property can truly be insulting, to put it mildly. To put it less kindly, it can easily be seen as the government being complicit in or even supportive of racism. And, in a nation founded on and supposedly supportive of the ideal of equality, that is not okay. It is miles and miles from okay. The light from okay will take several years to reach here.
Does the flag coming down magically erase racism or mean racism is over? Of course not. But it is one small step towards healing, and given the immensity of the hurt caused in our country to minorities by racism of all levels and forms over the years, it is a small gesture well worth it.
THIS IS NOT A CASE OF BEING OVERLY SENSITIVE OR POLITICALLY CORRECT
I can easily imagine someone agreeing with the gist of what I wrote above. “Sure, I can agree racism exists, is hurtful, and is still a problem. I will agree that someone could see the flag as a symbol of racism, even though it isn’t meant that way. But, the people offended by it just need to get over it. People are too easily offended these days. Besides, if we take that flag down, what next? Will we just take down any flag people find offensive? Slavery, racism, and a whole other host of atrocities have occurred beneath the U. S. flag, for example.”
I will agree with you that people are too easily offended in our day and age, and the term “politically correct” has become a derogatory phrase for sure, so not hard to appeal to that logic. However, this is not about curbing an individual’s free speech (see above; I agree with an individual’s right to deck out their home and/or vehicle in the flag), this is about the government’s speech. And regardless of your view of government, I would hope that, at least in principle, we would hold them to a different, higher standard than an individual. The government has no place flying a flag that is, when understood correctly in its historical context, synonymous with the causes of slavery and racism.
That historical context also makes it different than the U.S. flag. Slavery and racism have occurred under the U. S. flag, but the stated ideals of the U. S. were not about slavery and racism, as opposed to the Confederacy.
And if even after all that, you still think people, Black people in particular, just need to get over it, you may be speaking from a position of privilege, and may want to check yourself, because lecturing at Black people from a position of privilege never sounds good. Some people don’t have the option of just getting over it, no more than they have the option of controlling being more likely to be stopped by law enforcement because they look “suspicious,” more likely to receive a harsher sentence in court (including the death penalty), more likely to be incarcerated, or more likely to be the victim of some racist act or comment.
Finally, allow me to conclude with an appeal to the Christians who may be reading this. In Romans 14:9 (NIV), Paul tells us “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” Now, granted, here specifically, Paul is more focused on things related to Jewish law and custom (e.g., foods eaten), but I believe the principle applies: even if you don’t find something wrong or offensive, if your brother or sister in Christ finds something so offensive as for it to be a stumbling block, don’t do it. Work towards peace and mutual moral uplift.
So, yes, if anyone asks, I’m glad the flag came down. May it be a step towards our nation’s journey of trying to live up to the ideal of equality on which we were founded.