Southern Pride

June 27, 2015

In a short time a sweeping change has taken place in the Deep South.  Sentiment for removing the Confederate flag as a present day representation has never been so strong.  But detractors remain.  The ones I know personally are also people I have known to be deeply compassionate and kind.  This is my letter to them.

When one flies this image, what does it celebrate?  The only defense I hear is that it does not represent racism.  But what meaningful value worthy of our pride does it symbolize?  I’ve asked and gotten no response.  How can we cling to a symbol by shouting only what we claim it ISN’T?

It’s time to let it go.

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I am thankful to be from the Deep South.  Living in the Midwest for 14 years has only strengthened my understanding of my heritage.  There are beautiful parts of Southern culture few people see because the negative are so awful and well documented.

How do people know I’m from the South?  My ass carries the legacy of vegetables laced with bacon fat.  When I holler at my kids in public, my southern accent immediately kicks in.  I tell stories.

Where I come from, we hold out our hand to a wounded sister.  We hand her a linen handkerchief to dab her tears, and pour her a sweet tea with fresh mint.  Or bourbon.  We sit with each other and bear witness.  We share our crazy ass stories to normalize our experiences and assure each other we are not alone.

These are the things I think of when I consider my heritage.  We commune over good food and drink and music and stories and our humanity.  We know our history.  We have seen messy change and ugly resistance up close.  We are proud of how far we have come, and saddened by resistance that remains.

Where I come from, we do not flaunt our privilege in the face of suffering.  We do not act entitled to our good fortune.  To do so is to commit the sin of gettin’ above your raisin’.  It is just bad manners.  Such arrogant behavior is a social felony and carries the sentence of exclusion from gatherings where good food and drink are served.

I would have thought the racist connotation of this image was indisputable.  Yet you can find an argument for or against anything on the internet, dressed up with pretty graphics and feel good sayings.

But ultimately the long history of this image doesn’t matter.  Just like the words in our vocabulary gain meaning from how they are used, so this flag has come to represent white supremacy.  Whatever positive and legitimate association you maintain for this image, there are too many radically hateful people who fly it with their cruelty.

You will not reform it.  You cannot make it mean something else.  Let it go.

My education began in the late 1970s in the post-integration Jackson, Mississippi public school system on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement.  African Americans of my generation in Mississippi likely knew terror from racism first hand, or at least through their parents and extended family.  Imagine looking at this image with that deeply painful context of personal grief and anxiety.  Imagine fearing for your personal and economic safety because there were people in your community who believed they had the right to harm or even kill you just because of the color of your skin.

Offense at this image is not a personal attack on you.  Whatever meaning you grasp when you hold on to this flag pales in comparison to that kind of pain.  To be a Southerner is to have a moral obligation to reach out to each other in kindness and acknowledge that painful past.  Where I come from, we hold out our hand to those in pain.  We can’t do that if our hands are busy clutching this image.

Let it go.

Relinquish it to the history books and let those folks sort out what it does and did, doesn’t and didn’t mean.

A flag is a symbol of our identity, what we treasure and what we celebrate.  It is time to craft new images that reflect who we are today, and who we hope to become.  It is time to find symbols of which we can be indisputably proud.

Let go of defending this symbol.  You do not have to fear relinquishing your heritage.  You only need to honor the good parts of it in the way you live your life and how you treat others.  Show that the good in your history is not as fragile as a flag.  Show that you have the capacity to imagine another’s suffering that you have not experienced.  Show that you are capable of caring about that hurt, and willing to help heal it.

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