“Greatness lies not in being strong, but in the right use of strength. ”American clergyman, reformer and abolitionist, Henry Ward Beecher, was born on this day in 1813 (died 1887)
The Supremes ruled against a Texas license plate bearing the Confederate flag. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has called for the removal of the flag from State Capitol grounds. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has called for a repeal of the Sons of Confederate Veterans license plates.
These are, as they say, all the right moves.
But let us not think removing the flag will solve this issue.
Yes, in the South Carolina case, the gunman has clearly demonstrated that he was racially motivated. But what about Sandy Hook? Virginia Tech? Columbine?
Let’s not think that the answer to a crime of hate is a renewed hatred of all things Southern. All things white and Southern, if you will.
No, no, no. I’m not defending the Confederacy or the “Southern Cause.” Of course the main reason for the war was slavery.
But let’s also not be fooled by the ignorance of history that suggests that only Southerners were racist. Check out the history of the Newport, Rhode Island mansions. Or fast forward a hundred years and Google “Boston and busing.” And let’s not forget that slavery existed in this country under the British and U.S. flags for more than 200 years before the Confederacy came into existence.
Stay with me here, I have a point.
I don’t display the Confederate flag. I used to. I didn’t stop displaying it because I was offended by it, but because I realized it was an offense to others. I will admit to having once been of the “Heritage, not Hate” mindset. Work with me here. I was born in the 1950s in rural Southwest Virginia. It was not until I moved to Washington, DC that I started seeing things differently. Of course I would never have considered myself to be a racist. But I will admit that, more than once, I had a realization of “oh crap, that’s the wrong attitude.”
I had to learn.
Nick Hunter wrote in The Daily Beast this week:
Black Americans have too many reasons to despise the Confederate flag. From slavery, to Jim Crow, to last week—it is so bloodstained today that it can only be thought of primarily as a symbol of terror.
Confederate flag supporters have argued for years that everyone should understand them. But black Southerners have tolerated something most of them consider intolerable for a century-and-a-half.
That’s time enough for understanding.
Truth is, I once had what I thought was a brilliant piece of art with a charcoal drawing of an old house. From the porch hung a Confederate flag in full color. I don’t have that any more and can’t be certain that I know what happened to it. I do know that we consciously took it down from our wall. I also have a print of Lee’s farewell address in a frame with a print of Lee. For years it had a small Confederate flag in the frame. We stopped displaying that as well. I have since replaced the flag with a print of Lee and Grant at Appomattox. As soon as my shoulder lets me reach the spot on the wall where I want to put the hook, I’ll rehang it.
Both of these art pieces are fine in historical context. And that’s where we should see the flag. It’s a part of history. We do everyone a disservice if we deny that. But they are far different than flying the flag from the front of my house or from the grounds of any public entity.
In full disclosure, I do have a Confederate flag painted on a small rubber duckie. It’s a gift from a cast-mate in Parade from earlier this year. I played a retired Confederate general. In reality, we all pretty much played racists in that show, we just hated the Jews more than the blacks. It was an honest, yet beautiful, telling of another painful time in our history. I keep the duckie as a reminder of the show, not as a matter of Southern pride.
And, it has absolutely nothing to do with what happened in South Carolina.
Mollie Hemingway writes in The Federalist this week:
….The murderer of the Emanuel nine has done something particularly bad, but he isn’t the only person capable of evil out there. And getting rid of a flag is hardly the remedy for the racism and violence that infects our culture. How juvenile to think otherwise.
Getting rid of the Confederate flag will not stop the next racially motivated attack. We are naive to think that it might.
The flag should not disappear. It belongs in museums and in other historical contexts so that we do not forget what happened, and so that we do not allow it to happen again.
This shooter was motivated by racism. But a common denominator more prevalent that racism in mass shootings is the use of of psychotropic drugs. “Experts” will tell you that the drugs don’t cause the shootings. Maybe not. But neither did a piece of cloth.
The point is that we should be looking at pharmaceuticals as intently as we are looking at Confederate symbols as we seek answers.
No, actually, the point is, like I tried to say Monday, that we shouldn’t have a knee-jerk reaction that fits our own political agenda.
Else we run the risk of patting ourselves on the back because we’ve removed all but the vaguest historical references to the Confederacy thinking we’ve solved the problem of racism.
Until the next attack.
Evil, and hatred, and racism, and yes, mental illness, exist in this world. And they all overshadow a symbol of the past.
Take the flag down.
Just don’t be fooled into thinking the problem is solved.