Archive for the Flag Day Category

Juneteenth Message

Posted in CULTURE & POLITICS, Flag Day, HOLIDAYS/ FESTIVALS/ MEMORIALS/ PARADES, ME, My Family History with tags , , , on June 19, 2015 by travsd
Torn and tattered Confederate Flag

No, asshole: THIS has to go.

We need to talk. That’s all anyone’s been saying since yesterday. Last night, my significant other and I heard at least three groups of people passing by our open window, all talking about THIS. Yeah, talk is cheap, but it’s better than nothing. I may seem an unlikely person to initiate a conversation on this topic, and this an unlikely place in which to do it, but there are all sorts of reasons why it’s appropriate for me to add my voice, so here goes.

It has to do with who I am.

When I was 13 years old, I took some of the money I’d earned from working at Tom Hoyle’s dairy farm, went to the county fair and bought one of these:

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It wasn’t exactly this model. The Stars and Bars were on front, as I recall. But I bought it and I wore it around for a few weeks, with all the perverse, contrarian pleasure of pubescence. I even recall wearing it to school and I don’t remember any uproar — a few eye rollings, at most. The only particular reaction I remember was one day I was walking down the sidewalk and I heard giggling and voices behind me and realized I was being followed by a black kid I knew named Stanley and his mom. They weren’t intimidating or harassing me — it was more like playful, good-natured ridicule, as though to say “Ho, ho! Look at Robert E. Lee over here!” They taunted me a bit, I ignored them, my face grew red, and I kept walking.

Now, it’s a good rule of thumb: if the thing you’re doing makes your face red, i.e., makes you ashamed, it is probably shameful, and you shouldn’t be doing it. But what if some people tell you a thing is good and others tell you the same thing is bad? And that’s what this was like. I grew up in New England, but my father was from Tennessee. I have ancestors who fought for the Confederacy and ancestors who kept slaves. Yes we learned that slavery was wrong in school, but I didn’t hear that so much at home. What I heard was a lot of defensiveness (I won’t appall you on this occasion by laying out what the defenses and rationalizations and explanations were — surely you can imagine.) And my New England bred mother was not a moral bulwark against these preachings. She was the one who, when I brought home my black friend Ronnie Christy one day after school in the first grade, said “Tell your friend he has to leave now.”

This was the 1970s, technically after big  inroads in civil rights, but clearly with no concomitant revolution in the human heart, at least not in our house. In fact, it was the beginning in some ways of a sort of reactionary cultural movement throughout the country, the moment when people said, “OK, that’s all done, now we can move on.” The galvanizing anthem, a kind of clear cultural pivot was Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 1974 song “Sweet Home Alabama”, an answer song to Neil Young’s “Southern Man.” It was the beginning of Redneck chic, of Billy Carter, The Dukes of Hazard and Burt Reynolds comedies.

The rationale, the rallying cry was, “Hey, leave me alone! I didn’t do anything! I didn’t keep any slaves! Why can’t I be proud of who I am? And how can I honor my ancestors without these symbols? You get to honor your ancestors, why can’t I honor mine? What am I supposed to do, kill myself?”

But I grew up in Rhode Island, one of the Bluest states in the union, the heart of Kennedy-Dukakis-Kerry territory. It wasn’t long before I began hearing and learning and considering and adopting other points of view, ones more in keeping with my instincts about what I knew was right. And I worked on myself. HARD. I continue to do so, every single day. Because it’s on my conscience.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

But as someone who has also done wrong in his life before I also know from experience that endless apologizing wears thin mighty quick and in fact even becomes a kind of torture to the person who has been wronged. The only thing that makes it better is…things that make it better. Doing something . Taking some steps that actually improve the situation.

“What am I supposed to do, kill myself?”

To this day, MILLIONS of Americans hold this point of view. Some apologies have been made on their behalf by officialdom (a far off government they despise anyway) but these people haven’t even gotten around to the apology themselves, haven’t even arrived at the acknowledgment that their ancestors participated in something wrong — very wrong — as wrong as it gets — and it is their RESPONSIBILITY to make it right somehow. SOMEHOW. A small way, a big way. Some effort. Some something.

The Confederate Flag is a shameful symbol of genocidal hatred. That’s what it is because millions of people look at it and to them that’s what it means. It doesn’t matter what it means to you who fly it (and it probably means something heinous to you anyway). It hurts OTHERS. To display it is an official endorsement of LETHAL racism. That’s swell that your ancestors (my ancestors) fought and died under that banner, but you know what? Millions of Germans did that too under their banner and nobody’s flying any goddamn Nazi flags. This flag doesn’t just hurt people’s feelings, but it inspires maniacs to hurt, to KILL people, and not BAD people, the very BEST people, a minister, a grandmother, a college student. A five year old girl was traumatized for life, on behalf of your beloved Confederate flag.

The First Amendment protects free speech. That’s as it should be. But how about pulling all Federal funding from any entity that flies the Confederate flag, be it a state, a city, an organization, or whatever?  The only place where this flag should ever be seen anymore is in a museum under glass where we can all see and know and understand that it belongs in the PAST. But let’s kill it as a living symbol NOW. TODAY.  Any politician who’s not out front on this is DISQUALIFIED.

I hope she doesn’t mind my quoting her, but on social media this morning Desiree Burch very humanely referred to racism as a disease. I think that is the right metaphor. As an irrational hatred it’s a form of mental illness and, because it is widespread, it is a social plague. It is a disease. It needs to be eradicated. I know it can be done, because when I was a kid countless mentors, teachers, friends, and heroes changed my own fucked-up head around, and most of them didn’t even know they were doing it. They did it by being good examples. Our official institutions need to be held to that same standard.

Happy Juneteenth. 

Addendum: this past Flag Day, I posted a companion piece to this post about the OTHER slavery flag. To read that one, go here.

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