My grandfather, who passed away many years ago, was a hardworking man, whether he was running his doctor practice or his ranch. I remember riding beside him on the long bench seat of that old green Chevy step-side truck when we went to stay at the ranch in Madisonville. This was back in the 60’s, long before trucks had such common amenities as seat belts, cup holders, or air conditioning. We would ride out to the pasture with feed and hay for the cattle and horses, and it was hot, sweaty labor. Grandaddy always carried a blue bandana which he used as a handkerchief, a sweat rag, or an oil dipstick cleaning cloth. Sometimes, when I would get cut by some rusty barbed wire fencing or fall down and scrape my knee, Grandaddy would calmly and gently wipe the blood or my tears away with his blue bandana, all the while soothing me with his firm yet gentle voice which assured me I would live. I grew up with fond memories of Grandaddy and his soft, worn, blue bandanas…
Unfortunately, my grandchildren will never have such fond memories of me carrying a blue or red bandana which I might have used to wipe their tears away, dab their bloody scrapes, or blot their sweaty brows with. No… they will never know that memory, because for over twenty-five years the red and blue bandanas to which I refer have come to represent something entirely within our society. The same bandanas that call to memory a simpler, more innocent age for me now symbolize affiliation with violent gangs, drug trafficking, and drive-by shootings over turf wars. Indeed, if one were to be seen with a bandana of the “wrong color” in the “wrong neighborhood”, it could easily cost the person his life. Furthermore, as a teacher in the public schools and, later, in the prisons, I have not been allowed to carry a bandana as a handkerchief for the very same reasons.
So, the question has been posed, “Does the Confederate flag represent hate and racism?”. Well, like grandaddy’s bandana, it might symbolize different things to different people. It has always been my contention that emotions such as hatred, racism, fear, and ignorance lie not in the inanimate symbology that we as humans assign, but rather in the hearts of men. While the blue bandana may represent love, tenderness, and authority to me, it may represent gang affiliation, drug trafficking, or violence to another. The symbology does not exist in the inanimate object but, rather, in the symbolism that the person applies to it. Many people seem to agree that there are times when the Confederate flag is symbolic of racism or hatred, and, like Grandaddy’s blue bandana, because a subversive sub-group of hateful, ignorant people have bastardized its original symbolism, I would agree. I could not agree more that some of these people who wave the Confederate flag while crying for slavery to be reinstated or using racial epitaphs to demean or denigrate those of different races are acting out of racially motivated behavior or, at the very least, some unfounded hatred towards those who are different than they are. On this, even my liberal friends would most likely agree.
However, if my liberal friends agree with the above statement, then, in the interest of objectivity and consistency of logic, they must also agree that when, for instance, a group of protesters wave a Black Lives Matter flag while screaming racial epitaphs about other races or call for the killing of specific groups of people who are different than they are, then that flag has become equally as symbolic of racism and hatred.
America is composed of many different cultures , and cultural differences allow for many different forms of symbolism in practically everything. Take, for example, the simple concept of a slap in the face. In most cultures that we are exposed to, the slap in the face is a slight at best, abusive at worst. However, in some cultures, the facial slap symbolizes something completely different than our interpretation:
“Slapping is viewed differently by different cultures. In Iceland, slapping of children is viewed as an extreme form of physical abuse, whereas in the United Kingdom it is seen by only some parents as abusive, and even then only moderately so. A 1998 Indian study found a high rate of approval for husbands slapping their wives, particularly among husbands and middle-class Indians.
In some cultures, when girls menstruate for the first time, their mothers often slap them across the face, a cultural tradition thought by some to signify the difficulties of life as a woman.” Wikipedia
Thus, the symbol is not really the main issue, but rather, the heart of the issuer of the symbology becomes the enemy we must fight against. Allow me to state this another way. Since the passing of the Civil Rights Amendment in 1964, the government has attempted to basically legislate racism out of existence. Has it worked? Well, most people would agree that it has failed miserably. Certainly we have overcome obstacles and witnessed the rise of many successful minorities in positions of power, from the CEO’s of companies to the United States Supreme Court, and even the Presidency of the United States! The law appears to be working after 52 years! But wait! We seem to have more racism than ever today despite these accomplishments. Why?
You simply can not legislate hate, ignorance, or racism away. You can remove every Confederate flag from every statue or building. You can change the name of every southern school and public building to eliminate any reference to Confederate soldiers. You can rewrite the history books and try to hide the events of our past from children. It will not rid our culture of hatred. Because that does not come from a flag. Because that does not come from a book. Because that does not come from an etching on a building. That comes from the heart of the man. Take away one symbol and man will simply find another to replace it. No, in order to battle the issue, education is a more powerful tool than fascism. Educating those who use certain symbols to represent their hate that these symbols will not be used for that purpose, is one step. But we also need to educate those who are ignorant of the fact that the Confederate flag was not only a symbol for the perpetuation of racism or slavery, but of many different beliefs and concepts. Many brave men died in battles fought during that war, and not all of them were fighting for slavery. Many were fighting for their homesteads, for their belief in sovereignty, in defense against taxation, and, yes, many were fighting to maintain slavery.
It would be safe to say, therefore, that to some people, the Confederate flag may represent slavery, to some it may represent racism, to some it may symbolize freedom or pride, or any number of things. Whatever it represents to you, one thing is clear. If you judge a person based on their t-shirt, a sticker of a flag they have on the back of their vehicle, or a tattoo on their arm, then you are guilty of exactly the same sin as those you accuse.
I had a student who, when he was a young boy, got recruited into a hate group. The leaders of the group tattooed a swastika on his forehead. He was raised by this group of subversives until he committed a crime and wound up in prison. While serving his sentence, he gave his life to the Lord. He repented of his sins and learned to love all people, regardless of color. He often lamented the symbol on his forehead, but every person who took the time to get to know him quickly learned his heart had changed and he was worthy of their attention and loyalty. He started a Bible study which was attended by several young men on his row, a group which represented four different races. He once remarked that he had thought of getting the tattoo removed, but decided against it. When I asked him why he simply said, “It’s a reminder of who I was. Now, it doesn’t matter. It’s not who I am.”