There are far more important issues right now — or issue. I mean isn’t Covid-19 really the only public issue that matters right now? But President Trump, ever the demagogue looking for a phony wedge issue, has taken to defending the flying of the confederate flag as a freedom of speech issue.
However one piece I read said that he had said it ought to be retired to the museum when he was campaigning back in 2015. Well whatever he needs to say to whomever to get votes or stir up trouble and take the eye off the ball that is Covid-19 and his mismanagement of the only real crisis he has faced in his first term as president.
But it makes me think. I have always been puzzled by the popularity of the Stars and Bars.
But up until recently, I just took it all for granted, feeling that despite what it might ever have stood for it had become relatively harmless. Of course that is easy for me, I am not a black person whose ancestors were held in bondage by those who flew it long ago in the Civil War or the War Between the States, the latter being the popular name for it the old confederacy.
And why would I think that way? One might suspect me to be a closet racist. No, it is just how I learned about it all as a child in elementary and high school, as well as from my neighbors who were from Texas.
I should mention that as a little boy I asked my mom if we had any ancestors in the American Civil War. She told me that she was always told that in her family, who had roots in Ohio, there was a young man who served as a drummer boy in the Union forces. My dad’s side of the family also came out of the old Midwest, Illinois (Land of Lincoln).
But starting in elementary school when we learned about the Civil War, we were always taught that when Gen. Robert E. Lee finally surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, in a gesture of forgiveness and grace, the band struck up Dixie, the anthem of the old South.
And so I grew up with this weird dichotomy of the southern half of our nation having in the distant past broken away in rebellion over their claim to the right to hold humans in bondage, losing the war, but then going on to celebrate that good old antebellum culture on the old plantation with the slaves working the fields. Somehow we were supposed to put slavery out of our minds and just appreciate the genteel traditions of Dixie. I mean slavery is anathema to our Declaration of Independence — I would add our Constitution, except it had that clause that counted blacks (who were the slaves) as 3/5 of a person each for purposes of representation in congress (of course they could not even vote). And that was later changed by amendment after the Civil War and after the slaves were declared free.
But how is it that so many white people were killed in that war on the union side but then the slaves who were freed wound up facing racial discrimination not only in the South but the North and everywhere? Perhaps the issue is a tad more complex. But importing slaves, no matter what color or origin, was always a bad idea.
As a little boy I had a best friend on the block who was from Texas, the far western frontier of the old Confederacy. He glorified that old Stars and Bars. But it seemed to me it was more like rooting for the home team (as an aside, his big brother was the star quarterback of the high school football team). We were just little kids; we just played games, like army (Civil War? I don’t recall) and cowboys and Indians (whoops, that is another touchy subject these days).
Back during the Civil Rights protests of the 1950s and 60s, during my youth, I heard more than one displaced southerner in my neck of the woods lament that back where they came from black people were more polite — if you were walking on the same sidewalk, they would step off and let you by.
So, yes, I began to learn that there was a lot of prejudice and racism out there. I was not brought up that way — save that as a white person you tend to just accept some things, even when you don’t agree with them, as just part of life you cannot change. And I do not mean to suggest that is right.
But you know, even if it is legal to fly the Nazi swastika (and I am not up on the legality of that) I would instantly take umbrage with it or actually recoil at its sight (well I have seen the symbols displayed in various forms from time to time — I reject it entirely). How can one support the Hitler legacy which in effect enslaved an entire nation and saw millions murdered over racial and religious hatred? The whole world was threatened.
And how, I must ask myself, can one honor the Stars and Bars if it represents enslaving other human beings? Some will tell you, oh, no, it represents a culture, a heritage that goes beyond slavery. But I am not at all clear on what that might be.
On the other hand, it seems we have to let bygones be bygones. We have moved on, although not as much so in race relations as we might have thought.
It may well be time to put the Stars and Bars to rest, except in museums. I don’t want our history to be erased. I see that the state of Mississippi has decided to redo its flag, which has retained the Stars and Bars within its design. About time, the Civil War ended in 1865, even though for much of my youth I would hear the slogan from time to time: “The South will Rise Again”. Again, the attitude is almost like a sports rivalry with many I think. There is a serious racist element in there too, unfortunately.
As far as confederate monuments, maybe leave them alone, as long as taxpayers are not paying for their upkeep. Or maybe it should be just community decision. You can tear down a statue but you can’t change history.
And all those army posts named after confederate generals, a lot of folks did not realize that they were — I think the only one I immediately realized was Ft. Lee, Va. (just did not think about it). But serving in and even making a career out of the military is quite a Southern tradition. Should they be renamed. That’s up to the congress I guess. It does seem like a slap in the face to so many black people who are career military.
And this Stars and Bars and NASCAR thing. NASCAR has officially banned it from their sport, and that has to be culture shock, since so much of NASCAR is concentrated in the South. I’ll leave it to those folks to work it out.
Oh, and there was that inane TV comedy Dukes of Hazard with the Stars and Bars I believe displayed on the souped-up car named the “General Lee”. I did get a kick out of Boss Hogg.
I often see the Stars and Bars displayed in car and truck windows. I’m pretty sure it serves as more of an emblem of rebellion, often displayed by people who have no connection with the old confederacy. And sometimes it is likely just decoration with no real message intended — except that banner carries with it a message that cannot be erased no more than a chilling racial threat can be from the swastika.
And I’ve seen Gone with the Wind, said to be one of the greatest films of all time, but some say it glorifies the old South with its culture based on slavery. Heck I forget the plot, really, except for a spoiled, impetuous southern belle and a gallant soldier’s relationship with her.
Somehow one has to accept history as it is or was and then deal with the present and move on with the goal of racial harmony.
NOTE: I refered to the Stars and Bars as the Confederate flag. I know there apparently was more than one flag used by the old confederacy but the one we all know is that Stars and Bars.