Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sowing the Seeds of Our Destruction

Photo: Gary Varvel
Each morning, it seems, I wake up to a new social consensus. Most of these small standards have no bearing on my life, just in so much as I merely recognize their existence. That is how I initially decided to treat the sudden removal of the Confederate flag on the state capital grounds of South Carolina. It was something that happened, and by no means was the act something to praise or disapprove. If the state of South Carolina wanted to show solidarity to the families and communities that were harmed by the dreadful act of racist domestic terrorist Dylan Roof, 21, by means of removing the Confederate flag, then according to the 10th Amendment of the United States Constitution, they (along with the people) may do so. However I was ignoring one simple truth: humans believe in creating moral and ethical justifications for their actions.

This week the removal of the Confederate flag has become a social fad that has extended itself to imply moral superiority. If you do not take the flag off of your capital grounds, off of your state flag, remove it from your school grounds, and strip the flag off of your memorabilia or merchandise, you will be labeled as intolerant, hateful, and racial bigot. If you disagree, this just solidifies the accusation. Any discussion thereafter becomes mute. End of discussion.

This discussion, or should I say lack thereof, began with the discovery of Dylan Roof's website manifesto, where he laid out his belief in white supremacy, support of segregation with an added array of defamatory language against African Americans. Along with these hateful words, Roof posted photographs of his visit to a South Carolina Confederate Museum, while others show Roof posing with the Confederate flag. Thus while the digging into Roof's manifesto was underway, the question what would cause Roof to have so much hatred for African Americans is answered for us by the State. The answer: proliferation of the Confederate flag.

Why not? What else could spur a man to hate but the historic Southern Confederate flag? You may say a deep seeded emotional or mental disorder, or perhaps some event in his past involving his upbringing could account for his racist and hateful ideology. However, this is ignoring the fact that he had a Confederate flag in his hand, and as we all know symbols like a flag are powerful messages that persuade us more than any event in our lives.

The meaning of the Confederate flag as a symbol has been defined for us by preachers, politicians, and businessmen. Thank goodness! I would have never known the true definition by studying the historical context in which the Confederate flag was used. It's not like that historical context can be found printed online or in a book. So let's move on to the definition:

In a recent editorial "The Cross and the Confederate Flag," Russel Moore (the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention) writes, "The Confederate Battle Flag was the emblem of Jim Crow defiance to the civil rights movement, of the Dixiecrat opposition to integration, and of the domestic terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens’ Councils of our all too recent, all too awful history." Furthermore, since the flag has been steeped in racist rhetoric, from it being used as a "emblem of Jim Crow defiance" and "Dixiecrat opposition to integration," this flag is incompatible with the teaching of Jesus Christ. His final opinion states, "None of us is free from a sketchy background, and none of our backgrounds is wholly evil. The blood of Jesus has ransomed us all “from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers” (1 Pet. 1:18), whether your forefathers were Yankees, rebels, Vikings, or whatever. We can give gratitude for where we’ve come from, without perpetuating symbols of pretend superiority over others." In conclusion he begs white Christians to listen to their African-American brothers and sisters, and even though these whites can care about their own history, remember it's a shared history.

South Carolina put the Confederate flag to a vote, and it's removal passed 103-10. In Mississippi, Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn said in response, "We must always remember our past, but that does not mean we must let it define us," Gunn said Monday night in a Facebook post. "As a Christian, I believe our state's flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed. We need to begin having conversations about changing Mississippi's flag." I guess by begin having conversations, he means "the conversation is over, now to tell people who support the flag that they have been actually supporting segregation and slavery the entire time." How do I know this? Those who could put up an argument against taking down the flag have decided not to. Mississippi's U.S. senator Republican Roger Wicker said, "As the descendant of several brave Americans who fought for the Confederacy, I have not viewed Mississippi's current state flag as offensive. However, it is clearer and clearer to me that many of my fellow citizens feel differently and that our state flag increasingly portrays a false impression of our state to others."

Forbes recently reported that Walmart has now pulled the Confederate flag from their shelves. Walmart spokesperson Brian Nick, "We never want to offend anyone with the products that we offer. We have taken steps to remove all items promoting the confederate flag from our assortment, whether in our stores or on our web site." He goes on to note, "We have a process in place to help lead us to the right decisions when it comes to the merchandise we sell. Still, at times, items make their way into our assortment improperly...this is one of those instances." So, out of all the items they sell, the Roof's actions did not cause them to remove the selling of guns, bullets, or horrible hair cuts from their stores. They decided the Confederate flag was a more integral part of Roof's hate.

There you have it. They have made their decision and now comes mine. If we are going to kill context let us do it elegantly and with grace, not with silly assumptions, accusations, and religious rhetoric. What I find odd about this situation is that the reasons for removal are more of a knee-jerk response to a radical racist taking a picture with it. Am I to believe that the history of the flag suddenly changed, and that everyone just woke up and realized, "hey, this flag we actually had no problem with yesterday is actually a symbol of hate." Will there come a day where we all just wake up, turn to the American flag and realize that it too can be a symbol of hate. America has been accused of racism, irrational war, genocide, and murder. The United States created Japanese internment camps, dropped two atomic bombs, one on Hiroshima and the other on Nagasaki. Would it then be appropriate for our Japanese allies to decide to take away any symbol of the American flag from it's country? Would it be appropriate for U.S. citizens of Japanese origin to step on the American flag, or disregard the 4th of July?
I and many others associate the Confederate flag with it's historical context, meaning that it is not necessarily a flag of slavery or hatred, but a rebel flag. I hold it in the same regard as the Betsy Ross 13 Colony flag, which was the flag of the American Revolution. The South made this same claim, saying they had a legal right to succeed from any tyrannical government, and if we consider the American Revolution as precedent, the South was within it's legal right. Many scholars do not believe that the Civil War, or as the South calls it, "The War of Northern Aggression," was about slavery, rather it was about the South's belief that Lincoln (along with the Republican North) were tyrannical because they were denying the South their (immoral) economic model. The South would not have believed that their economic model was immoral, because as we know slaves were considered "property" and not people. They, just like us, believed that damaging one's own property is not a moral offense. The Civil War was fought brother against brother, families from the North and South had to fight each other, we would be ignoring the sacrifice made by both sides if we were to take the Confederate flag down. After the Civil War why didn't the North make it so that any Southern symbol would be deemed traitorous? There are statues, streets, banners, colleges, military forts, and city names all dedicated to Confederate generals. The Confederate Memorial Monument is on the grounds of the Alabama state capital and was been there since 1898. Are they going to change all of these historical names and monuments? In response to this overwhelming moral and political consensus, I let Sir William Wallace have the last word.

“Any society which suppresses the heritage of its conquered minorities, prevents their history or denies them their symbols, has sown the seeds of their own destruction.”
-Sir William Wallace, 1281

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