Monday, March 7, 2016

Manic Monday: The Confederate battle flag, from a Southern white woman's POV . . .

I am a white woman.  I was born in southern Kentucky.  Kentucky, during the Civil War, was a border state.

One of my great-grandfathers was named after Robert E. Lee.  (I've done some pretty extensive genealogical research, and I can't find evidence of any of my ancestors being slaveowners.)

I moved to Florida at the age of four, and I was raised there.  A huge controversy rose in 1971 about the usage of the Confederate battle flag at Dixie Hollins High School in Pinellas County, Florida, where I lived.  That was the same year court-ordered busing for racial integration began.  At least one of my friends transferred to a private Christian school that year.  Several years later, I attended a school in a black neighborhood.  I was bused there due to that same court-ordered busing.

I went to college at FSU.  The Florida Panhandle is still, culturally, more of "the South" than St. Petersburg, FL.  The Kappa Alpha fraternity would hold an annual celebration of "secession" with girls in hoop skirts and boys dressed as "Southern gentlemen".

I spent seven years in Miami, which is both a melting pot and a hotbed of racial and cultural conflict.

Now, I live in the Atlanta area, where the name of William T. Sherman is still taken in vain.

I say all that to say this:

I am opposed to the Confederate battle flag.

I do believe it should be in a museum on display, where people can know what it is and understand its history.  (I believe the same about the Nazi swastika--people need to know what it is and what its significance was and is.)

But I don't believe it should be on display, as it has been in South Carolina; nor do I believe that the previous Georgia state flag--which contained the Confederate battle flag--be reinstated.

Why?  Because no matter how many times people insist that the Confederate battle flag is "heritage, not hate", I'm drawn back to these lines from Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens, made in a speech in Savannah, GA on March 21, 1861:

"The new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions—African slavery as it exists among us—the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. [Thomas] Jefferson, in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the "rock upon which the old Union would split." He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old Constitution were, that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with; but the general opinion of the men of that day was, that, somehow or other, in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away... Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the idea of a Government built upon it—when the "storm came and the wind blew, it fell."
Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. (Emphasis mine, TAS.)
. . . look with confidence to the ultimate universal acknowledgement of the truths upon which our system rests? It is the first government ever instituted upon the principles in strict conformity to nature, and the ordination of Providence, in furnishing the materials of human society. Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race; such were and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature's laws."
The above excerpt is part of what is considered the Cornerstone Speech, also known as the Cornerstone Address, given as an extemporaneous speech.  (I cut and pasted the excerpt from the Wikipedia article on the Cornerstone Speech.  A discussion about the speech can also be found here, at the blog Big Think.)

The Big Think article contends that Stephens' attitude towards African-Americans was more "paternalistic".  Perhaps "paternalistic" can be defined as an attitude of, "we must take care of you because you are inferior."

That (minus the attitude of inferiority) is the attitude I have towards my son.  I do need to care for him . . . but don't I also need to teach him to care for himself?

I'm sorry, but when you put in a sentence like, "the negro is inferior to the white man" . . . THAT is what I hear and what I see when I see the Confederate battle flag.

And saying that a group of people is "inferior" is condescending, patronizing, and hateful.

And that is why the Confederate battle flag needs to be confined to museums and history books.

I admit that, as a Southern white woman, there is no way I can ever "get" a history of slavery or a history of systemic, legalized discrimination.  I don't know what it's like to be afraid that you could be lynched just for looking at someone the wrong way.  And I fear that I can be patronizing and condescending towards others who I may see as "inferior".  Right now, other than doing what John Howard Griffin (author of Black Like Me) did -- dyeing my skin and living as an African-American -- I don't know how to crawl into the skin of African-Americans and truly understand what many of them deal with on a day to day basis.

The Bible does say, in Galatians 3:28, "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (New International Version)  There is no such thing as "inferiority". 

So please, do not give me the line of "heritage, not hate" when you refer to the Confederate battle flag.  Too many people see hate and inferiority when they look at that flag.

Including me, a Southern white woman.

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.

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