Friday, June 19, 2015

The Confederate Flag Conundrum

In the wake of this week’s shootings at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, the call has come once again, for the Confederate flag at the state capitol to come down. This is not an easy thing by any stretch of the imagination, and if you are at all able to hold two opposing ideas in your head at the same time, you can understand why. But for those of you who can’t, let me explain why it’s not quite a slam dunk in either direction.

And then let me propose a solution.

Let me start out by saying that as a kid…or at least a teenager…the Confederate flag was the symbol of a region. Yeah, sure, it was also the symbol of those people during the Civil War, but those people lived in a specific region, and that region had its own flag. New England didn’t have a flag that could be used as an identifying symbol like that. Nor did the Midwest, the West Coast (which is really just California, so I guess it does), the Southwest, the Pacific Northwest, or my own Middle Atlantic States. The South actually had a symbol, and that flag was it.

You could be pretty sure that car with a Confederate flag symbol on it was from the South. What you couldn’t be sure of was that the person driving it was a white racist redneck. After all, even black Southerners have a sense of regional pride.

So there’s that.

But there’s something else, and it comes up every time someone talks about getting rid of that flag. It’s called “honoring your ancestors.” I’m betting that just about every white Southerner worth their accent has ancestors who fought on the side of the Confederacy, and it’s not an easy thing to say that your great-great-grandfather fought on the wrong side or for the wrong ideals. It’s not an easy thing to say that the flag that your great-great-grandfather fought under should be treated with contempt.

And yet, today’s Germans do that all the time with their ancestors and the Nazi era flag.

Let me add one more point, and then I’ll propose my solution. This point is that in many cases, that flag made a resurgence in the mid 20th century as a form of “in your face” passive-aggressive resistance to the changing Civil Rights scene. It was sort of like, “You can make us change our laws, but you can’t make us change our hearts. So take our flag and stick it up your…” It’s this more recent resurgence of the use of any form of the Confederate flag which has been the source of many of the issues surrounding it.

And now it’s time for a solution.

My original idea for a graceful solution was that they should go back to the historical state flag from before the Civil War, just as the Germans did with the Nazi flag after WWII.

And then I found out that this isn’t even the state flag. The actual state flag would be perfectly fine.

So how then to solve this problem gracefully, without anyone feeling like they were backed into a corner, and needing to save face?

Fly the current flag, the Confederate flag, at half-mast for 30 days, treating each of the people killed on Tuesday night as fallen heroes, not of the Confederacy, but of the South…the New South…the South that South Carolina wants to be a part of. Will it make certain people’s ancestors spin like turbines? I don’t know. On the one hand, I’d like to think that they’re beyond caring. On the other hand, I’d really like to think that if they do care, what they care about is rectifying what they now understand are the grievous wrongs that they played a part in trying to prolong.

Yes, fly the current flag at half-mast for 30 days, and when those 30 days are over, take it down, and replace it forever with the official state flag. The flag that stands, in no uncertain terms, for all of South Carolina’s residents.

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