Julian Chambliss, a college History Chair is planning a flag burning (and burial) across the South to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the end of the Civil War. The flag is the “Confederate Flag”, which historically is actually a variant of the Battle Flag. To him and many African-Americans, it stands for slavery and racism. Hate groups agree, and wave it liberally. Chambliss even made a version of the flag in the colors of the “Black Liberation Flag”.
I respect his sentiment. I almost applaud his “art project” on it’s intention to give closure and healing to some on a still-decisive past. Almost. If he could see past his ethnocentrism, he realize not everyone (of any Colour) shares his interpretation of that symbol. Or history — the flag in question was flown not for the government or institutions of the South but for their physical fight for self-determination, including freed slaves who were treated better than their counter-parts in the North. Like they say, “If this [flag] offends you, you need a history lesson”.
The ignorance of a much-oversimplified history too long to go into here. But clearly, what is offensive to some is dear to others, and often does not represent anything close to what is assumed, either at the time of its inception or today. Burning the “Rebel Flag” just because some have used it for hate and to protest historical racism is akin to drawing Muhammad (pbuh) to protest terrorists. You may be free to, but intentionally or not, you’re a jerk. It’s a broad shot at a limited target and others get hurt. You cannot help but disrespect all those who do NOT use the symbol for what you decide it must mean.
However, there is a difference worth noting. With depicting the Prophet, it is non-Muslims testing the ire of Muslims on the (purported) grounds they are countering the unknown numbers who will protest to the point of violence and silencing free speech. With the Flag, it is a battle for meaning between people who live under it (as it is widely flown in America). It’s not about other people, but ourselves.
A Nation Still Divided
And so we are still a nation divided. There are “these people” who are accused of not “getting over” losing a war of secession, and “those people” who won’t “get over it” with regards to slavery. Waving it may not help, but burning it certainly doesn’t. Hopefully this will at least cause a dialogue rather than more hate, but if the talk over at the Coffee Party and across social media is any indication, we prefer ignorance and actually learning anything for this is, sadly, unlikely.
I for one know that Black History is American History. So is Confederate History. Racial or regional pride doesn’t have to be divisive. We CAN “get over it” if we stop speaking for others as to what THEY mean and value. Wars have always been fought for good and bad reasons. Some saw it as a “rich man’s war” to defend a plantation economy. Most saw it as defending their homes and way of life from outside influence, regardless of the abolition question. And some see it as an unpurgable defiance against the powers of the North — and today, not unlike then, the Federal Government’s overarching authority. To have such sentiments doesn’t make people traitors or terrorists, or any of the other appellations still heaped upon the “Rebs” among us. Some would even argue — as back then — that it stands for the ideals of our Founding Fathers in a country that’s too big for its britches.
I’m not Southern or have descendants from the War Between the States (although most who do have them from but sides), but I know enough from those who are and do. I’ve prayed over the graves of POWs in Elmira, NY. I myself sometimes wear a “Bonnie Blue” flag pin for the reasons above, and in a Memorial Day parade wore my SCV hat (I was an honorary member as a post chaplain at one time). I figure those educated enough to recognize it won’t be ignorant enough to be offended. I hope someday we can say the same for the Battle Flag of the Confederacy.