I have struggled with whether and how to post on this. However, I think silence is the wrong solution, so I’m just going to be brutally honest.
1) Last I heard, seven predominantly Black churches had burned down since the Charleston massacre, at least three of which are confirmed arson cases. My Newsfeed is full of frustration about the effect of the #takedowntheflag movement on iconic television shows and, on one post, American history itself. People have died. Churches have burned. I have a hard time mustering even a passing interest in the aesthetic qualities of an orange car or the lasting effect on historical understanding if the flag isn’t widely available and proudly displayed.
2) I find the “it’s not racist” argument both unsuccessful and disingenuous. I find it unsuccessful because it is not enough merely to show that it’s a matter of heritage (though more on heritage in a moment); one must also show that a) it’s a heritage worth celebrating, and b) it’s a heritage worth celebrating *regardless of how others experience that celebration.* As for (a), that one’s ancestors fought and died for this cause cannot be a sufficient condition for being worthy of celebration; there are many causes for which people have died that we do not therefore find laudable. I am full of southern pride and take serious offense when people make condescending remarks about the south in passing. I am furious every time I see a caricature of a southern person in the media. There is so much to take pride in here. Why this? As for (b), that’s largely why I find the argument disingenuous. It seems to amount to saying, “I don’t care if you experience this as a reminder of a brutally oppressive past and the continued threat you experience merely in virtue of your skin color. That’s your problem.” I think people are absolutely free to wave that flag if they so choose, and one may of course sincerely believe it is merely a heritage worth celebrating that is (somehow) disconnected from slavery and racism. (On an unrelated note, the KKK will be holding a protest at the SC State House to protest the removal of the flag. No, really.) However, one must also recognize when they wave that flag that others will experience the flag *and the insistence on waving it* as a symbol of one’s values and accept that as a consequence of one’s decision. It is difficult for me to see how one can claim not to be racist while intentionally accepting and even embracing that particular consequence.
3) Frankly, I do not understand why one would wave a flag that celebrates the division of the United States. It seems un-American to me.
4) In the past, when I’ve raised concerns about my son, I’ve been told that I needn’t worry because although there are racist people out there, I’ll raise him right. Racist undertones of that kind of comment aside, I’m curious how the parents of the Charleston victims could have done more to prevent what happened. And, I am worried about my son. He will grow up in a world in which I have to do thorough research to find children’s books that feature Black people but in which he will see the Confederate flag every time we drive to see his grandparents. How I raise him can’t change the messages his society sends him.
5) The reason I struggled with whether to post this is because I don’t particularly want to engage in a debate about it. It’s not because I generally avoid debate. (I’m a philosopher, for crying out loud.) It’s instead that this is so deeply personal that I cannot engage in rational debate. It’s such a values conflict that despite recognizing that this might be a moral failure on my part, I can’t see people the same way once they argue about whether the Confederate flag is really racist. I don’t merely think, “OK, well, agree to disagree.” Instead, I worry about my son. To drive to TN, you have to pass a Confederate flag that’s always flying on a hill. Every time I drive by it, I feel a twinge of pain for my child. I worry about everything in that moment, from whether he’ll find himself in mortal danger to whether he’ll have to experience someone not wanting to sit beside him because of his skin color. The odds are overwhelming that he will experience racism. (He has already been subject to it. Mercifully, he’s young and blissfully unaware of anything that isn’t an elevator or a cookie.) All of those fears flood my mind every time I drive by the flag. I know it’s there. I know it’s coming. I’ve not once driven by it without thinking about the flag and all of my fears for my sweet, beautiful, happy boy. It’s not merely the flag that sets off this fear spiral. It’s the intense commitment to flying it. It’s the deliberate decision not to care about that very fear spiral. It’s that – the callousness that takes – that puts my stomach in my throat every time I see that flag. And I’m White, so this fear being a daily experience is new to me.
6) This is not the time to comment in defense of the flag. You are free to do that in your own space. And, you are free to read less from me over this post. You are free to think less of me for being unable to separate this debate from personal relationships. You are free to think I’m unfair. You are even free to think I don’t know my American history. This is not me offering a forum for those who wish to tell me how I or anyone else ought to feel. This is me saying that the flag and defenses of the flag are emotionally grueling. If you want to fly it or defend it, fine. But there is a human cost to going that route. And all of that is true even if it is just heritage.