It’s 2014 and people are still squabbling over the meaning of the Confederate Flag.
Currently, the flag is a topic of contention in a Virginia town, where an “activist group” raised the Flag on a 90-foot tall pole on private property, visible from a freeway. According to an article from The Washington Post, one of the activists from the Virginia Flaggers, shared his perspective:
when he sees the giant flag along the interstate he feels pride and reverence
…he doesn’t think of the flag as a symbol of a fight to preserve the institution of slavery, in part because he believes the war was a defense against Northern aggression. The historical meaning of the flag, he said, should not be distorted by the message of the hate groups that have carried it — groups that have been repeatedly denounced by the Flaggers organization.
I’m pretty well acquainted with the Confederate Flag, a side effect of 13 years combined living in Georgia and Texas. When my family moved from New York to the South, I felt as I though I’d been involuntarily enrolled in a crash course on racism.
It was in Georgia where I realized the world as I knew it existed in terms of black vs white. Everyone seemed obsessed with everyone else’s race and your color gave people ideas about who you were before they even met you. Over the years, I’ve given some thought to the history of the flag and what it represents. When I see the Confederate Flag:
- I remember a rainy day after school when my world changed irreversibly by these simple, yet loaded words:
“Get away from my house, niggers!”
A white classmate bellowed this greeting at me and my sister, an expression of glee and righteousness in his glare, a legal pad-sized Confederate flag pasted in the corner of the window from behind he which unwaveringly stared at us.
As my mom tells the story today, the sense of helplessness in her voice betraying her desire to convey strength, my sister and I initially refused to tell her what happened, though she knew by our solemnity and silence something was off.
She recounts, upon hearing what our peer shouted at us, resisting the impulse go tell some people what’s what and later shared her frustrations with my dad. To us, she explained that unfortunately, this was another one of those times when someone has hate in their heart for you because you are black. You didn’t do anything wrong. Don’t let it hurt you. We can pray for them.”
Some people will hate me because I’m black.
- It calls to mind an eye-opening conversation I had with a white co-worker, Sarah, as a teenager in Houston:
We were sitting in her new, glossy black truck, an early graduation present from her father. She called it a “dually” – which always sounded like “dooley” to me – I gathered a “dooley” referred to an over-sized pick-up truck with a giant ass.One afternoon after work, as she sucked on a cigarette, she told me: “You know…I’m not racist. I don’t hate all black people. Like, I don’t like ‘niggers.’ You know what I mean? Like you. You’re one of the good ones. You don’t talk all ghetto and shit, you’re not lazy and you’re smart.”
I shrank in my seat a little, stupefied by her words, unsure how to respond to the inherent supremacist subtext of her comment. In her voice I heard a sense of pride in her generosity and acceptance. She didn’t dislike all black people. Just the niggers.
I wondered, how does she distinguish who is which if she doesn’t know the person?We headed to her house. She had offered to lend me a pair of her cowboy jeans since we were meeting up that night with other co-workers to see George Strait at The Rodeo.
As we entered the garage, I noticed on the wall to my left, hung the largest Confederate Flag I’d ever seen. It covered almost every inch of space on the wall. The wall in front of me displayed several large shotguns. Knowing the racist apple usually doesn’t fall far from the even more racist tree, a current of fear ran through me when her dad, a tall, hardy man with a thick mustache Tom Selleck would envy, walked out to greet us, voice thick with the country, “Hey there, girls.”
I hope he thinks I’m “one of the good ones.”
- The story of James Byrd, Jr. comes to mind.
In 1998, I was in college in Texas when I heard the news of James Byrd, Jr., a black man, dragged to his death behind a pick-up truck, by three white men in Jasper, Texas. 1998(!) and still people were killing black people for the simple “crime” of being black.
Two of his murderers were known white supremacists and at least one claimed membership in a Confederate organization. Sadly, his murder didn’t surprise me nor many other black Texans. As a black resident in Texas at that time, you lived knowing there are certain towns where you are unwelcome, where you may feel unsafe, where you may genuinely fear for you life.
Three vicious men, murdered James Byrd, Jr. less than 300 miles from where I lived.
- I recall, also while in college and stumbling on a disturbing photo at the photography shop that handled parties for many campus organizations.In the photo a group of thirty or so white students, posed in their Confederate best, costumed like extras in Gone with the Wind, Confederate Flags galore. The occasion was a white fraternity’s annual “Old South” party.
It’s an (mostly) unspoken rule, at least it was when I was in attendance at that school, that black people don’t join white fraternities and sororities and to even attempt to do so results in an awkward situation for all parties involved. I thought of how uncomfortable I’d feel if I were to attend such a tribute to the “good old days” and how would I dress? Those times weren’t all that happy for people who looked like me.
One chapter of this same fraternity later went on to offend Mexican students with their “Fiesta” themed party.
[If anyone feels the instinct to play Devil’s Advocate and argue that there are black fraternities and sororities, I’d like to point out that much like Black History Month, Black Student Associations, BET and Historically Black Colleges & Universities, they exist in part, as a response to the exclusion from predominately white institutions. Thus, comparing the two would be a false equivalency.]
- It reminds me of stories of angry white supremacist groups – not just in the past, but still in existence today – marching or rallying through neighborhoods with large black populations, their beliefs logged on posters with racist terminology, Confederate Flags proudly billowing, some terrorizing residents with racial epithets.
- Finally, and I mean finally as in “the last point”, as this is by no means an exhaustive list; far from it. Of course, this flag is synonymous to me with the enslavement of Africans and Blacks, people from whom I’m descended. Synonymous with the side that fought, in part, to preserve that disgusting, reprehensible institution to maintain its economic interests.
To some, the Confederate Flag is a symbol of pride. I will never be able to view that flag through a filter of pride. To me, it represents pain and hate. It embodies the most depraved soulless and cruel elements of humanity.
I will not deny anyone their freedom to display the Flag on their private property. However, I am free to want nothing to do with it. Years ago, I wrote in my journal, where I listed reasons to move from Texas to California after college, “I want to live somewhere I don’t have to see the Confederate Flag every place I go.”
Update: Shortly after I posted this entry on my Twitter timeline, I received the following tweet:
you people are constantly in a state of taking offense – to nearly everything. You should consider going home to Africa.
accompanied by this avatar:
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