My sister emailed me from Canada to ask what I thought about the issue of Confederate flags in the South, and after some consideration, I’ve decided to post my reply to her here. Though I have strong opinions on a range of issues, I generally don’t write about those opinions in this space. This is a fibre arts blog, and I try to keep it free of the strife and antagonism that’s easily found all over the internet in our increasingly shouty climate. Once I wrote these thoughts out for her, however, I realized that I wanted to put them out there. I hope you will bear with me. This won’t become a regular thing, I promise.
For context, I’m a Canuckian married to a Southerner who was born and raised in Birmingham, AL. I’ve lived here in Birmingham for many years, and though I’ll never fully grasp the nuances of the culture and history of the South, I believe I’m coming to understand and love the place I now call home. So with that in mind, here’s what I told her, as an immigrant who’s been here long enough that my accent sounds funny to everyone:
Well, the people I know here are pretty embarrassed about it: the idea that one can somehow separate slavery and racism from a symbol that has been used almost entirely by slavery apologists and racists is insulting, and the fact that the flag still flies at many state capitol buildings down here is infuriating. Of course, the group ‘people I know’ is pretty much restricted to lefties and non-racists, so it’s hardly a cross-section of Southern thought, but there are a lot more of us down here than you’d think, given that the right-wing loonies and racism apologists are louder and have more control of the press. The irony of the whole ‘the war was long ago and we’re just honouring our dead/our culture/Southern pride’ argument is that when it comes to commemorating the civil rights movement of the 60s, the same people say, ‘why must you bring up our unpleasant past when we’ve moved on?’ (Seriously, there were prominent people in Birmingham who didn’t want to commemorate the 50th anniversary of ’64 because why bring up ugly history? I shake my head.) For years, [my husband] has talked about getting bumper stickers made with a Confederate flag with a red circle and line through it and the words, “We lost. Get over it.” I still think he could sell a lot of them.
So my take, and the take of Southern friends I’ve talked to about it, is: Take the damned flags down. It’s racist, it commemorates atrocities, and it has no place on government property, nor should African Americans still have to be dealing with this crap. Having that flag on the grounds of the seats of power down here says some very ugly things about the people sitting in the state legislature, and the hand-flaily arguments to keep it there are just embarrassing. The South is about so much more than the Civil War, and there are innumerable ways to show justified pride in the good things about this place. That flag isn’t one of them, and clinging to it gives credence to those from elsewhere who stereotype the people of this region as a bunch of ignorant rednecks and oppressed black people.
Ahem. A bit ranty, for which I apologize. As you can imagine, it’s a pretty hot topic down here.
If you’re interested in why, if there are so many progressives here, the South overwhelmingly votes right, Donna Ladd wrote an excellent piece on the subject for The Guardian.