Sean’s Blog: This cloth in the wind

I’ve read and listened. I’ve been amused. I’ve been saddened and disgusted. I’ve been reminded of the flaws and the possibilities of us humans. All over the conversation about a flag. A symbol. An iconic reminder of a time and a shared value…albeit a sick one.

Finding a seat in the bleachers has offered the opportunity to hear the ludicrats and armchair philosophers and their positions. Mine isn’t right or wrong I suppose, but it’s mine.

Whether inductive, deductive, Socratic or other employed methods of inquiry or reasoning, or if wrapped purely in circumstantial evidence, I have found there to be a striking relationship.

Mine began as a 7th grader at Rosenwald Jr. High School. A new student arriving mid-year, an Air Force brat having lived in California for the previous four years and in central America before that. Two days into school I was introduced to the social cancer of racism. I was surrounded at my locker by four guys in flannel shirts, jeans, boots, and, yes…caps with a confederate flag on 3 of the 4. The spokes-boy said they were gonna kick my ass after school because I sat at lunch with “that nigger girl.” My new friend, Angela, had welcomed me when I walked into my first class. I was grateful. Upon arriving in the cafeteria I saw and her friends. I approached and asked if I could sit and join them. She offered an awkward and coy smile, looked around and said, “Sure.” It never crossed my mind in my thirteen years of life that this would be seen as a crime of treason.

Sure enough, as promised earlier in the day and dismissed by me, three of these guys turned a corner as I exited the building toward the bus line. They pushed me against the wall by the tennis court and punched and kicked me for about 10 seconds before running—like the cowards they were. I survived and filed no report to the seemingly apathetic “teacher” first on the scene. The bus ride home was filled with confusion and anger over a new found social norm I had just discovered. While my memory clouds a little more these days then at those times of youth, I don’t recall any of these junior high militia members punching me in the name of States rights or tariff objection.

The behaviors and the attitudes continued through my years in this North Florida city, often perpetuated by a group of four-wheeling, hell-raising kids whose sense of identity was proudly displayed by the rebel yells, the after market mufflers—a four wheeler’s version of Viagra—and yes, a confederate flag tethered to an antenna or its likeness on the front bumper plate.

The tension was always there. It seemed to pause for a time among the athletes. There was a kind of jock armistice during football and basketball season. In a some situations, the players who tackled, dribbled, shot, ran, huddled, and practiced together became friends. Some changes of heart occurred before my eyes. Those brave souls would most certainly be given some grief over the repeal of their prejudiced convictions. Courage mixed with logic will always be a powerful brew.

Larry Wilmore, host of the Nightly Show is certainly not a politician or an historian. He is not fanatic activist. He is a humorist, a black man, an informed citizen in a position to offer information from a place of passion and actual facts. He offered some of the most important—and largely absent from the media—facts about this banner waving. The following excerpts were pulled from wsj.com.

“For the record, the Confederate flag is not a proud symbol of tradition or heritage, it’s a symbol of oppression and intimidation. That’s not my opinion, that’s an objective fact.”
Wilmore used quotes from Confederate vice president Alexander H. Stephens’s March 21st, 1861 “Cornerstone speech,” which stated that the Confederacy was based on “the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man” to help get his point across: “You don’t get clearer than that,” stated Wilmore.
The “Nightly Show” host also called South Carolina on its “heritage” argument, because the Confederate flag had only been flying over the Statehouse since 1961 – “to mark the centennial of the Civil War, and, coincidentally, right around when the black people started with the wanting of the civil rights.”
If that wasn’t enough to convince people otherwise, Wilmore brought it home with his closing remarks: “In 1961 [the flag] was a reminder to black people that they should know their place. It has always been used as a symbol of intimidation and terror. And that’s what it remains today. In fact, because displaying the swastika is illegal across much of Europe, skinheads and neo-Nazis often adopt the Confederate flag in its place. It’s such a racist symbol that it does double duty as the backup racist symbol for another racist symbol!”

If there were no flag, what remains a strong spirit of the confederacy represented in this banner of bars and stars. I’ve seen it, felt it, heard its voice and just as loudly the silence of many under its streaming. This was not limited to my days as a teen in a Florida school. It was as recent as a few years ago while living in Savannah, Georgia. A beautiful and historic city. Good, God-fearing people. Charming and mysterious. Steamy and stocked with a full cupboard of culture. From my earliest days in this place I struggled with a clear sense that there remains a “way things are” environment of quiet and sometimes stark segregation. Less though with proximity (although it is there too) than an “understanding.” Of course there were the usual suspects of diversity and inclusion efforts; policy and reforms; enlightened leaders and citizens; and pockets of progress—however defined. But the separation and complacency with where each “belonged” was both disturbing and sickening for me.

Free speech aside, I just wonder if something—an icon, a relic, a symbol, a flag—serves as much a reminder of pain and sadness and oppression, why not just remove it from stages that suggest it is worth celebrating?

I know is this: Racism is a choice. It may be culturally founded. It can be just as easily cured as it was contracted. As I have written in this space before, I saw it happen before my eyes in a little house in Panama City. My grandmother, a lifelong bigot whose daily use of the proverbial “n” word was a source of great tension with me and the rest of my family, was single-handedly and single “huggingly” released from her prejudice by my dear friend James Lyles. He was introduced to her in the living room of my home. He wrapped his arms around her and said, “Granny!” In a moment, in a flash of perfect humanity, she found a friend and a symbol of what is right in this world. She loved this good man to the day she died an spoke of that moment many times.

We have these choices to make. Honoring our heritage is one thing. Promoting it, celebrating it as if its intent can somehow be washed from the color, is a moral felony. I hope the attitudes and motives of that awful time in history change sooner than later. In the meantime, draw down this cloth in the wind.

Sean


One response to “Sean’s Blog: This cloth in the wind

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