We, Southerners, have to accept that the Confederate flag must be taken down. It has become too tainted with negative attachments to ever recover. It’s like a beloved family pet suffering from rabies. As much as it may break your heart, it must be put down because it can never be cured. And that’s something that everyone else needs to understand: the Confederate flag, for many Southerners is a beloved icon of heritage, not hate. Just as some children of immigrants to the US appreciate another nation’s flag as a symbol of their family heritage, some Southerners appreciate the Confederate flag as a symbol of their family heritage. Yes, they and we are full Americans, proud and true, and respecting another flag does not show any desire to be anything other than full, respectful Americans.
There are nations in this world that have done terrible things in their history. Japan, Russia, even the United Kingdom, as well as the United States are all guilty of atrocities more recent than 19th century slavery. But if a descendant of that nation were to display that flag as a symbol of their heritage, few would call out that display as a bad thing. Most people can recognize another person’s respect for their cultural heritage without thinking that person also supports everything done under that flag or as a part of that culture. Why can’t people understand this about the the South’s relationship with the Confederate flag?
I do not own a Confederate flag. I don’t remember that anyone in my family ever owned a Confederate flag. But I’ve known of it as a piece of Southern heritage for as long as I can remember. And as a piece of Southern heritage, I never thought of it as a racist symbol. I know some racist people have used it as their symbol, but it was never such a thing to me and many other happy, peaceful, and accepting Southerners. I know some people can’t accept that idea, and that is sadly ironic. To turn around an old phrase: It’s a Southern thing, you wouldn’t understand. Whether you understand or not, if you intend to have any kind of respectful, honest discussion to convince someone that the flag needs to come down, you have to accept that to many, it is not a racist symbol.
There are some who don’t want the flag taken down because they see doing so as disrespecting their heritage. To them saying the Confederate flag is bad is like saying the South is bad. You have to understand this feeling and point of view if you want to convince some Southerners to accept taking down the flag. You can’t come at people with an arrogant or condescending attitude about it. You must work to convince people, not order them. Most any American will bow up at someone demanding of them, and it’s worse for someone seen as an “outsider” to demand you do something. Too often, instead of explaining, “The flag has just accumulated too much negative baggage,” and “as a symbol, it does damage on a moral level,” someone will essentially say, “It’s a racist symbol,” and by relationship, “and you are a racist for having any respect for it.” You can’t wash something by throwing trash at it.
There are also some who don’t want the flag taken down because they see that act as the first of potentially many acts to disrespect and even disassemble the Southern culture. They feel that what drives the call to take it down is a general hatred toward the South as a whole. The South has a bad rep for being racist in general, even when the most recent big news items on the racism issue is going on outside the South. When comedians crack jokes about racism, they tend to point at the South. And when comedians crack jokes about the South, they tend to call up racism. And no matter how many times a Southerner disclaims racism, the response is essentially, “Yeah, that’s exactly what a racist would say.” It’s a sore spot for many Southerners. Whether real or not, some Southerners feel those calling for the flag to be taken down are also, by relationship, calling for the South to be taken down. They fear that after the flag, people will take down other Southern icons, landmarks, and names. It is not a fear without precedent.
You have to understand that the above things are feelings. Emotions. I’m not saying that anyone actually wants to take down the South as a culture, but when emotions of fear and embarrassment are invoked by an issue, people get defensive. And when people get defensive, especially Americans, they dig in, even if their position has become a muddy swamp. You should want to bring those hold-out Southerners to the right side of the issue by appealing to their innate good morals; you should not be trying to defeat and humiliate them because others with poor morals have taken up the same side. (Remember, average Southerners don’t want the damn racists among us or using our symbols, either.) For instance, if a neighborhood has become corrupt because criminals have taken up hanging on the corners, you don’t decide to arrest everyone living there. You civilly separate the good from the bad, and get the good to join you in driving out the bad. People claim to want Love to win. Well Love can’t win by using Hate as the weapon.
For those who do use the flag as a racist symbol, well of course they don’t want the flag taken down because that action symbolizes a rejection of their position. Sadly, though, taking the flag down will not change their minds, nor will it silence them, nor will it make them disappear. If the flag were to instantly vanish from the world, racism will not vanish with it. Violence in the name of racism will not end. I will point out that there is just as much racism and racist violence in the North, Mid-west, and West as there is in the South, with nary a Confederate flag in sight. And this doesn’t even count all the racism between races other than white and black.
So, yes, the Confederate flag needs to come down. But when it does come down, some Southerners could accept it better if instead of hearing a cheer of victory one would give for defeating an opponent, they heard the respectful condolences or silence you would give for seeing someone lose a beloved, yet very ill family pet. Your reaction at that moment reveals your true character as much or more than the reaction of those who let it be taken down. You may not respect those who use the flag as a symbol for terrible ideas, but you should accept (and forgive) those who think of the flag as a symbol of heritage.
My fellow Southerners, we have to acknowledge that some very nasty vermin have holed up in our backyard barn, and have been using it as a crapper for a long time, now. It is an eye-sore for the neighborhood, and a health hazard for our families. It’s time to take down the barn and give the nasty pests no place to live in our yard. It’s what a good family does to protect its home, and what civil neighbors do to respect, (and to get respect from), their community.
Let’s take down the flag, and store it respectfully, out of sight. Maybe one day it can be taken out again and flown with pride as we think of it. But for now, taking it down is the moral thing to do.