We were on our way back from Ireland, waiting in the Philadelphia airport, when we got the news about the massacre in Charleston. It was a sobering, shattering reminder of the world to which we were returning. Ireland had seemed idyllic. Everywhere you looked it was green and peaceful. Everyone we met was so friendly. There didn’t seem to be any of the divisiveness that has created such a rift in our nation.
Of course, that view of Ireland is an illusion. The violence of Belfast and Northern Ireland has claimed over 3,500 lives. The romantic ruins that make the Irish countryside so charming are themselves reminders of a long history of conflict. These aren’t the only artifacts and symbols whose violent history has been downplayed, at least from our view here in the US. Everyone here wears green for St. Patrick’s Day. However, during the rebellion of 1798, wearing green was considered an act of sedition, punishable by hanging. One group considered it standing up for their rights. Another considered it rebellion.
Similar to the Irish in 1798, many in the south saw the Confederacy as standing up for their rights. Others saw it as rebellion. However, in this case those rights for which they were fighting included keeping other human beings as slaves. Add to that the fact that the Confederate Battle Flag was appropriated by the KKK to perpetuate violence against blacks, this symbol can only be taken one way – as a sign of racial hatred. Not history. Not heritage. Hatred, and only that. Those that try to say otherwise are callous, at best. Now even Mitt Romney has come out as saying it’s a symbol of racial hatred.
Symbols are important. Back to the tragedy in Charleston, we now know that the shooter (whose name I’ll not even acknowledge in print) wore symbols of racism and hatred, including the Confederate Battle Flag. He even stated that he wanted to start a race war. This was not an attack on Christianity, as the idiots on Fox News would have you believe – it was racism, plain and simple. Fortunately, the good people of Charleston have chosen the greater symbols of peace and forgiveness.
I truly, truly detest those bumper stickers that feature the Confederate flag with the saying “The South – Love it or leave it.” Loving the south doesn’t mean that you have to love its history of racism and violence, or the symbols associated with that dark history. I’m Southern to the core. I even had a Rebel Flag hanging on my bedroom wall during high school. I grew up. I took it down. I learned better.
Jon Stewart, whom I admire greatly, chastised South Carolina for venerating the symbols Confederacy after the Charleston shooting. He complained that the roads are still named for Confederate generals. I won’t go as far as that – I don’t think we should have to rename Wade Hampton Boulevard. However, I do agree that it’s time for the Confederate Flag to go. It certainly does NOT need to fly on the grounds of the State House. Its proper place is in a museum, and not in full display as an acknowledgement of our ideals by our government.
This doesn’t mean that individuals can’t fly the flag. You can even fly the Nazi flag, for all I care. We have that right within the US. In fact, if you are of that mindset, I encourage you to do so. That way, people who do have a modicum of sense will shun you, as if you were wearing a sign that says, “Warning – stupid person here.”
One day the meaning (whether historical, or co-opted by hate groups) of the Confederate flag will fade into memory. It might even one day be as innocent as the wearing of the green is to us now. But we’re certainly not there, yet…especially if young people continue to take innocent lives under that banner.
So, here’s wishing that we all find peace – the people of Charleston, the families of the victims as well as the family of the shooter, and the nation as a whole. It is my wish that the tragedy brings about real transformation, and not just another round of political posturing. Alas, I don’t think our politicians will do anything other than utter platitudes and excuses for why things will always stay the way they are, while even more people are killed.
UPDATE: I’ve seen several Facebook postings on “Five things you don’t know about the Confederate Flag” or some such title. Each of these is supposed to be an excuse for why we should fly the flag. Yes. I know the flag’s history, and that the flag on the state house grounds was never considered the “flag of the Confederacy.” It does not change the fact that the flag that is now flying has become a symbol of hate. In fact, it reinforces the argument for taking it down.
Also, there ARE appropriate places to fly the Confederate Battle Flag. Flags on the graves of Confederate war veterans are entirely appropriate. Other appropriate historical settings, such as over Fort Sumter, are fine. Just NOT over the seat of government for our state (or on the state house grounds, for those that want to get picky about it.)