The conversation has been joined. Let’s carry it all the way until we can finish it, now, too. Are we ready, finally, to have the conversation on race that President Bill Clinton suggested the United States needed?
The Saint Andrew’s Cross, which is the Battle Flag of the Confederacy, now known as the Confederate Flag, symbolizes a fact of history that most White Southerners choose to deny: enslavement of Africans forcibly trafficked to this country and their systematic dehumanization while here–sentiments and aspects of which continue to this day. My family watched just two years ago now, when we were in South Carolina at one of those rural country stores that sells that kind of
stuff, and I talked up a conversation with the store clerk. He railed that the South was misunderstood and that the symbols were not about slavery. Indeed they aren’t. They are the expression of the larger problem of White Supremacy: a by-product of five centuries of European arrogance and exceptionalism that resulted in their domination and maltreatment of every non-European inch of the planet. The store clerk felt that he could “level” with me because of what I had in my hand.
I buy “Southern” memorabilia which can still be seen dotting rural landscapes from Mammy dolls to Black Sambo Lawn Jockeys. I have a collection of all of the ways in which Black men and women have been memorialized in U.S. culture as a part of that original colonial confrontation that occurred so many centuries ago.
Why, wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that Google suffered the horror of learning that its algorithm equated Blacks faces with gorillas? Speaking of gorillas, how many times have we seen President Obama or his wife, Michelle, depicted as or compared to gorillas?
Remember this “cartoon” from the February 18, 2009 New York Post?
(Of course the Post’s link is not available, but we have this link from ScienceBlogs.com – http://scienceblogs.com/authority/2009/02/18/new-york-post-editorial-cartoo/ that catalogs the story.)
If you’re going to chuck the flag, why not the rest of the symbols of White supremacy, also? Those symbols as well as the substance of White Supremacy span the South AND the North and still regulate U.S. domestic and foreign relations.
During my tenure in the Georgia Legislature, I campaigned to have the St. Andrew’s Cross removed from Georgia’s state flag. But first, to gain an understanding of the thinking of the men who moved the legislation, I interviewed the remaining legislators who were the ones who had led the charge and voted for changing the Georgia flag in 1956 in defiance of the Brown versus Board of Education Supreme Court decision mandating integration of U.S. schools.
Today, the Saint Andrew’s Cross has been removed from Georgia’s official state flag, but the Confederacy lives on as the Georgia flag of today was intentionally changed from the neutral flag that represented my state for the brief period of 2001 to 2003 to one that is an exact replica of the first flag of the Confederacy.
Georgia Flag 1956
Georgia Flag 2015
Confederate National Flag 1861
Truly, this is an educational moment, especially for our Generation X’ers and Millenials. However, I can’t help but notice the tasteless posturing by political poseurs. I think, sadly, raising the issue today gives sanctimonious hypocrites the opportunity to bash the South and reaffirm (only in their own minds) their own separation from the crass, unrefined hatred that was unleashed during that era of United States history; and, at the same time, such bashing allows these poseurs to get away with not doing one substantive thing to correct their own contribution to the manifestations and vestiges of those old sentiments that persist today.
Real transformation requires a willingness to confront oneself–at the acme of the abyss, as it were, to understand what this aspect of U.S. history brought to life over and over again–in police brutality for just one instance. (But we could look at today’s indices on incarceration, home ownership, wealth, infant mortality–you name it and the vestiges of this era are there for all with real eyes to see.)
Shadows of 1861 in 2015.
Look at the police brutality videos. What are these White police officers really telling us when we see them beat to a pulp or shoot and kill unarmed Black people? Have you watched those videos? Yet jurors cannot find it in their hearts to convict them for murder. How could any one of these police officers be guilty when all of the people of the United States are responsible? If one is guilty, what does that make the rest? Are we ready for that conversation?
When will the people of the U.S. accept responsibility for its past and present racial transgressions?
And look at the behavior that this unfinished U.S. business engenders. What is the relationship to power that exists when we see Black police officers unleashing the same brutality in sick mimicry of plantation scenes played out again and again from the very founding of the U.S.?
On this, I recall the pivotal scene in Roots where Kunte Kinte is whipped by the White slave driver and then the Black slave driver in order to strip Kunte Kinte of his identity as an African and instill in him a new identity as Toby, the slave. Well, we have those functions still being carried out today and the personalities involved in those functions serve to prolong the life of the plantation.
Who is today’s plantation owner? Who is today’s slave driver? Who are the Blacks of today who have the whip in their hands for the rest of the U.S. Black community? Who aids and abets the smooth running of the U.S. plantation?
Who, today, still has the courage to be Toby? Are you a bystander or a courageous resister?
(See that extremely important scene here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ByhFz5e5Tno)
Yet, with all of that having been said, in my experience, it is the reflective White Southern male who is the most advanced on the topic of what the U.S. has done to the world of people of color because it is that reflective White Southern male who has confronted himself, seen the demon, and transformed his heart and soul and, as importantly, his behavior.
Hence, that is one of the places from where I believe most profound change in this country can come. What I mean is that when you find a Southern White male who has made the transition from all that the South used to be to what the U.S. in its best self could be, he usually has become also a purposeful human being after having done important introspective work on his soul.
They are the reason, I believe, along with the few remaining Kunte Kintes of our day, that the South will be able to rise again. And, when that happens, it will be both a New South and a new United States.
As an aside, I will add here that I believe that is why John Edwards was politically destroyed, because he had the potential of asking other Whites in the U.S. to profoundly challenge their values and transform U.S. domestic and foreign policies accordingly. In many respects, former President Jimmy Carter is the most identifiable voice of White moral leadership and conscience that dares to use what is left of his bully pulpit to address these issues.
And remember how the pro-Israel Lobby sidelined Carter in 2008 and the former President was denied the opportunity to address the Democratic Convention? Too much conscience in too high a place? In 2012, President Carter addressed the Democratic Party’s National Convention, but only by video. Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee could soon become the new face of U.S. moral leadership. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-sedaei/obama-must-allow-jimmy-ca_b_121816.html)
It is clear today, that the Democrats are turning on its head the Republicans’
strategic retreat to “Southern-White-Male”America and are attempting to capitalize on an issue without substantively addressing hearts, minds, and–most importantly–policies that marginalize, denigrate, and kill non-White people.
Therefore, in the South, Congressional Dixiecrats would vote against Head Start that their own constituents desperately needed, just so that not a single Black child would get a Head Start from the government.
Today, the policy is to get Muslims to kill fellow Muslims. So what if a few Whites, including an Ambassador, get killed. After all, as Secretary of State Madeline Albright said, “The price is worth it.” Or as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked, “What difference does it make?”
Finally, the Confederate Flag is MY heritage, too. It is MY reminder that the past still lives and will become our future unless we all contribute in some way to the needed transformations in our own values and in the values of this country. Just tucking the Battle Flag or the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy away in a closet does nothing to address the essential values that it stood for. In that case, what do the Stars and Stripes of Old Glory stand for?
The past is prologue.
Many U.S. policies of today are heinous in their treatment of people here and abroad. And I have argued for a long time that these policies do not reflect the values of the people of this country. Am I right or wrong? The Supreme Court just ruled that it’s OK for the state to kill people, even though some who are killed are innocent, to demonstrate that killing people is wrong. The Confederate flag is merely a piece of cloth; let the hatred behind its meaning not become etched in hearts of stone.
Therefore, I would say, remove the Confederate flag, but let’s also examine its vestigial values that remain in Old Glory. Let’s start working on our hearts and souls as well as our policies and institutions. That is the real conversation that has been joined.
Are we ready?
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Silence is the deadliest weapon of mass destruction.
“The Bush family has a political dynasty that the Kennedy family was not allowed to have.” Steve Cokely
“Be true to who you are. Don’t worry how others may view you. Society is ill, infected with racism, homophobia, and violence. Always remember, it is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to such a profoundly sick society.” Coretta Scott King
“We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“The biggest weapon in the hands of the oppressors is the minds of the oppressed.” Steve Biko
“Make your spirit flexible, and nothing will ever bend you out of shape.” Wisdom by Taro Gold