Friday, June 26, 2015

(Not Really a) Rebel Yell

When I was a kid I had a rebel flag and I hung it in my bedroom window.  I was proud of being “southern” and Appalachian, and when I was very young I loved the Dukes of Hazzard.
I don’t know what ever happened to that flag.  At some point in my life it ceased to mean anything at all to me.  It had never been more than a colorful swath of cloth to me that was tied to a beloved TV show.  As I got older I just had no real interest in the flag anymore, just like I lost my interest in an unrealistic and (to my older self) un-entertaining show.
I had a novelty pirate flag too.  I think they both ended up in the same garbage bin.
Somewhere along the way I began to associate rebel flag stickers in the back windows of pickup trucks as a badge for redneckery.  Whatever that means.  When I met my wife’s transplanted family (they had migrated to Kentucky from Upstate New York) I realized that “redneck” wasn’t merely a southern demographic.  I also have never immediately associated “redneck” with “racists.”  I’m not saying there aren’t racists rednecks, but I don’t think the proud hillbilly culture owns the trademark on bigotry.  There are plenty of urban people, suburban people, and people from every other land use type in the land that are racist.
I don’t know that I’ve ever directly related the rebel flag with racism.  But then again, I’ve never really been the subject of racisms or been around too many overtly racists people.  I tend to relate it to people who need some kind of icon to latch onto to define their identity.  There are a lot of those out there: 13.1 stickers (how many twinkies I can eat after a half marathon), WWJD, My Degenerate Beat up Your Honor Student, I’m Ready for Hillary in 2016, Team Mitch, Hart ’84, or maybe My Karma Ran Over Your Dogma. 
All of those bumper sticker philosophies and political stances are silly.  In my eyes the rebel flag is just another asinine display of some vague world view.  It’s not like anyone ever walks up to some vehicle owner and strikes up a conversation about their bumper messages.  We really don’t talk enough.  We like to “share” and the internet has compounded and distributed the idiocy of bumper sticker world views to literally every corner of the world.  But “sharing” in this way is counterproductive.  It’s poisonous and divisive. 
I’ve been guilty of defending my whitehood by saying that there are black racists too.  I maintain this is true, but it doesn’t do anything for improving race relations.  To be perfectly honest, I really don’t have a lot of experience with people of other races.  I’ve mostly hung out with people who look and talk like me throughout my life.  It wasn’t so much by choice as by instinct.  Saying “there are black racists too” is instinct. 
It’s a way of responding to the notion that all white people are guilty of racism on some level, and that we have no business speaking about something we know nothing about.  I can say I have been a minority at times and know the feelings of conspicuousness that comes from being the only one of a certain skin color in the room.  I know racism goes beyond feeling conspicuous, but I know that I have valid opinions about racism.  I can see how damaging racism is and not agree with it.  If I can't have a valid opinion about racism then how can I be an ally in the fight against it?
I am not a racist.  That’s not to say I have perfect sensitivity for every demographic in the country or the world, but I am not intentional in my ignorance.  I grew up in a primarily white community.  I had few opportunities to get to know non-whites.  My children have had more non-white friends than I have.  I wanted them to get to know people with different backgrounds and to not feel conspicuous around them. 
Recently I was at the city park for a run.  A young lady I had never seen before was roller blading around the trail.  My daughter commented on her “skates” and we talked about the difference in roller blades and roller skates a little bit, and then Bean saw a friend and took of to go play.
On my next lap I came upon the roller blader stopped in the trail looking at some graffiti.  For years there has been a faded spray painted swastika.  Except...its backward. 
I slowed as I passed the young lady and said that it was shame, indicating the graffiti.  She responded:
“Don’t people know there are Jews around here?”
I did not.
“Whoever did that probably had no idea what they were doing.  They even got it wrong.”  I replied, and quickly added: “Not that they should have gotten it right!”
She went on to say how hateful it was, and I again suggested that it was probably stupid kids that didn’t understand the significance.  That doesn’t make it right, but it takes some of the menace out of it.  The signs pointed to painful ignorance.  The accompanying graffiti includes a twenty foot long cartoonish penis.
We chatted for a little while and I left feeling as if I hadn’t exactly allayed the young lady’s concerns.  She explained that she was Jewish and that she had plans to move to Israel.  I wasn’t really able to express my own disgust at the graffiti well.  And maybe my disgust is whitewashed and watered down.  I’ve seen that particular painted icon a million times while running around the half mile paved path at the park.  I don’t even notice it anymore.  It has no power over me or for me.  But I had long wished the city could have done more to obliterate it and the phallic trail art. 
I don’t know, before last week I hadn’t thought about the presence or absence of the confederate flag.  I say stop flying it over government buildings.  I say it should be removed from state flags.  Someone commented on facebook that it represents a country that attacked America.  I don’t think that’s entirely true, but in what universe does the losing side get to proudly display their flag all over the place?  If you think it’s your heritage then I think maybe you need to rethink your understanding of history.  States’ rights are one thing, but perpetuating a 150 year old campaign that was doomed to begin with is just plain silly. 
Can’t we have dialogue about states’ rights without dredging up a pretty deplorable chapter of our national history?  The primary “right” that the Southern states wanted to maintain was the right to determine if slavery would be legal within them.  Those that argue that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery are deflecting.  It most certainly was about slavery.
This is not an issue of abortion or gun control.  We’re talking about the oppression of a large group of people based on something they ultimately had no control over.  No one can choose their race.  And can we all agree that there is nothing inherently superior in any one race over any other?  It’s sad that there are still some people who can’t see that.  And some people who claim to be worshippers of the Creator of all races.  
I can’t control that I was born white, but I can control how I use my whiteness.  I can choose to live with respect for other people no matter their background.  I can see past skin color.  And I’m not even going to try and argue that I don’t see color.  We all do.  We all will forever.  But color is what makes us beautiful.  And white is a color too.  I think we need to stop thinking about light and dark colors.  There is a human soul and mind behind each color we see.  That’s truly all that matters. 
I think it’s time that the Confederacy finally goes away.  I think it’s time we recognize that the United States of American soundly defeated the Confederate States of America and we should stop allowing the flags of and monuments to the Confederacy to exist in this country. 
To do so in ignorance is no less damaging.  To do so willingly is absolutely deplorable and evil.

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