We have finally arrived, hopefully, at the end of Confederate Flag but unfortunately after another tragic shooting. It took me a while to get here too.
Learning history, the Confederate Flag meant the Civil War and slavery. But that had long passed so the stars and bars seemed pretty innocuous to me and somewhat quaint its appearances.
At the same time, I didn’t dismiss black people being offended by the flag, while I also could appreciate southerners who saw the flag as a representation of their region. The so called southern hospitality, nostalgia and honor centered around the Gone with the Wind-ishromanticizing of the south.
Why not, we certainly take pride as New Yorkers at the being smarter, cooler and tougher than anyone else.
As such, it’s clear that the depth of my knowledge was quite limited, and I have no problem blaming the pathetic dissemination of American History in our daily lives and educational system. My true education did not begin until several years after I graduated from college.
For instance, I was somewhat puzzled by a holiday set aside for Martin Luther King. For one, aren’t they reserved for people long dead like George Washington and Jesus. But more importantly, I really had no insight into the civil rights movement and the life threatening struggle King and others undertook to achieve legal equality. (Still not there, please see The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander)
The Robert Caro books on Lyndon Johnson provided me the introduction my high school was supposed to. I became so incensed by the manner in which 22 southern senators blocked anti-lynching laws and human rights for 75 years.
The indignity these hospitable men enforced sickened me. I wanted to dig up Richard Russell’s bones, resurrect his DNA and strap him to an electric current. The Jim Crow South actually made me madder than slavery because I could find people who lived through this.
On the other hand, a direct connection to our slave era atrocity does not exist. As such, I was still associating the Confederate Flag to that time, but it’s place above state houses was starting to perplex me.
That completely changed when I read Black Boy by Richard Wright. Born to the Deep South, his life shuttles between his mother, a series of uncles and aunts and his violent grandmother. But it’s the constant threat of violence that isthe most debilitating.
His first experience occurs when his uncle is murdered, and his successful tavern is burned to the ground by jealous white southerners. That abruptly changes the comfortable life Wright was leading and situates him permanently with his abusive grandmother.
Slowly, he learns of the racism that led to his uncle’s demise and begins to face it himself. He learns that the relationship between white and black demands that he not set goals of achievement or success, while intellectual growth was reserved only for whites.
In turn, Wright must conform to a subservience that demands ignorance to his white betters and appreciation a system that stratified the races. In one instance, he is beat with a whiskey bottle for failing to address a white counterpart as sir.
Even so, Wright reads, pursues his passion for writing and seeks to get ahead. He inquires for an opening in a saw mill business but is deterred when a former black worker reveals three missing fingers for taking a job there.
Later, he gets the opportunity to build a career working for an optometrist from the north but ultimately is harassed out of the prospect by two white coworkers who cannot accept his quest for knowledge and betterment.
A second job with a southern optometrist also fails. The owner deliberately pits Wright into an ongoing and deadly confrontation with a black coworker for the sheer sport of it.
Simply because he could, Wright’s experience is what the Confederate Flag represents. An all-encompassing system of intimidation and terror perpetrated on an entire race of people who almost had as little chance of escaping as the slaves that came before them.
Sorry, there is no middle ground.
If you want to take pride in the positive aspects of southern culture, a symbol not tied to this past must be found.