As pieces of cloth go the Confederate flag is a reprehensible piece of seditious shit, a treasonous, blood-soaked embodiment of fear, ignorance and hate and an example of man’s most brutish tendencies winning over his shared humanity. Those who argue for the flag’s tradition, heritage and rebel spirit 150 years after the South lost the Civil War are, in essence, vouching for the enslavement, murder and torture that occurred in the flag’s name. This includes the cowards who call themselves leaders in the state of South Carolina.
Today, the Confederate flag hangs 30 feet high overlooking the South Carolina state capitol grounds, less than a week after a massacre in Charleston left nine people dead inside historic Emanuel AME church because of their skin color. Any suggestion the state, and its leadership, is truly grieving the deceased and interested in taking steps to prevent another such terrorist attack is a paper-thin lie as long as that wretched flag flies. The state’s leaders need to vote to remove the Confederate flag ASAP. (It’s worth noting current GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush and former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney have called for South Carolina to remove the flag from its lofty perch on the capitol grounds.)
Racism is deep in the roots of the South. I’ve seen it in pictures, heard it in code words about school dances, experienced it at sporting events. I still recall the production the employees at plantations made telling us as schoolchildren about the ghosts that lived there. These were not haunted houses. They were homes to slave owners. What a pathetic fucking joke.
When I was 10 my family moved to a south Louisiana village notable for its endless sugar cane, muddy bayou that separated its two highways and a pair of gas stations. At the estate sale before we moved into our new house, I discovered a book with a weather-beaten picture acting as a bookmark. I long ago forgot the book’s name. The picture – that of a black man hanging from the village’s lone bridge – lingers. He was Freddie Moore, a 16-year-old accused by a mob of killing a white woman, I later learned.
The high school I attended years later in the same rural parish was known for its football team, its porous graduation rates and its racially separated proms. When asked by media types people associated with my high school explained the fact whites and blacks attended separate proms as a matter of whites wanting to drink off-campus. Say no to racism. Say yes to underage drinking. The prom explanation always rang hollow to me, a teen weirdo who drank the Southern Baptist flavor of Jesus Kool-Aid in a Catholic community. Whites and blacks rarely mixed at my school. During lunch the whites sat in the courtyard, the blacks in the lunchroom. The whites sat in college prep classes regardless of their intent to attend college. The blacks, for the most part, did not take these classes. In name segregation ended three decades prior but it continued in other ways.
I attended college a 20-minute drive from high school. My university had the unfortunate distinction of being named after a Confederate general who later became governor of Louisiana. If that wasn’t bad enough the university used a Confederate officer as its mascot. That same mascot paraded around the sidelines at football games with sword in hand, a shameful spectacle if ever there was one. After I graduated the university awoke to the idea this presentation of its values was maybe, uh, racist, and it hired a firm from the Northeast to conceptualize a new mascot. My university’s new mascot looks like a Nazi officer, thus proving the old adage two wrong mascots don’t make a right.
My own coming of age experiences in the South convinced me racism is a living, breathing entity that most would like to sweep into a corner like dust on a wood floor and act as if it doesn’t exist. This is not a suggestion that racism doesn’t exist in other parts of the country – it does – but the South has mythologized and honored its racist past in a deplorable fashion that makes it a laughingstock to the rest of the country.
There’s nothing honorable about the Confederate flag. Nor is there anything honorable about South Carolina continuing to proudly display it in the 21st century. Worshiping ghosts responsible for stripping the humanity and dignity of an entire population for the color of their skin is the lowest form of tradition, if you want to call it that. It is cowardice. It must stop.
Removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state capitol grounds would bury a part of the past that should have been buried ages ago, as opposed to continuing to hold it in reverence. Absent this and subsequent dialogue about the atrocities of our past and the injustices of our present we are destined to repeat our grievous mistakes in the future.