The Confederate Flag is back in the news but let me say up front, “I don’t get it.” A recent display at Tallahassee’s Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science (Click here: Top News- Confederate Flag Exhibit Ignites Uproar – AOL News ) has brought the controversy over this flag back into the national consciousness. Here’s what I don’t get: I don’t understand the thought process involved in a person like Robert Hurst who, when he sees the flag, is filled with pride as a descendant of a soldier who fought for the south in the Civil War. Maybe I’m missing the point. Maybe what he feels so strongly about is that his ancestor fought for something he believed in; that he didn’t cower from a fight. If that’s the case, then I suppose I do understand. But we are down to subtle nuances of belief, often poorly articulated by those who hold them in the face of the defending the flag itself. Moreover, if the Confederate Flag holds such meaning for people, why fly it publicly? Why not keep the flag where it can be seen in the home to be a reminder of ancestral heroism and duty while simultaneously being respectful of the interpretation others have of the flag? Does being respectful of what others think show weakness? Does it diminish the memories that are trying to be maintained? Or are Confederate Flag fliers being disingenuous about what it is they really want to say?
Here’s what I do know and I what I hold to be true: the flag IS a symbol of every American’s right to free speech. In exactly the same way as “flag-burning” is. Now, I would never fly a Confederate Flag and I would never, ever, burn an American Flag. But just because I wouldn’t doesn’t mean that others can’t. In fact, I believe “flag burning” to be one of the greatest symbols of America ever concocted by an American; and how ironic that such a symbol was created by someone trying to tear down the image of the United States. In how many countries could you burn the national symbol of unity and identity and not be thrown in jail or assaulted? The very fact that such an immature, ungrateful, uninformed act can take place legally is a wonderful symbol of our spirit as a nation and our individual tolerance for the intolerable. Few things strike as objectionably as flag burning to those who have fought for that flag or to those who have loved ones who have done so or any American who has an appreciation of what sacrifices have been made throughout history to perpetuate that very symbol. But when I, as a former military member, see an American burning the flag I am filled with awe. Oh, I’m filled with disgust, too, for the person perpetrating the act. But I am filled with awe at how our constitution, so deeply ingrained in the national psyche, allows for this behavior. When I was growing up, my father used to say, (I always thought in jest, but perhaps not) “Well, this is America. You have every right to be wrong.” What a nice synopsis of our first amendment.
It is in fact true: every American has the right to be wrong, flag burners included. And I fought for that right and I will support that right for as long as I live. I don’t have to like it. There are a lot of things I don’t like but which are inevitable and necessary in a free society. Their existence is a testimony to our freedoms. And the things I believe in can’t be diminished by the behavior of others. Let me say that again for it applies not just to my values as an American but as a Christian: there is nothing that anyone can say or do to diminish my unshakeable faith in Christianity or the American constitution.
And so we have the Confederate Flag. At the very least, it is widely viewed as a symbol of those who fought to maintain slavery. Perhaps that’s too narrow a depiction of its symbolism, but I believe that is the view held by the majority of Americans and, more specifically, black Americans. To fly it publicly, with that knowledge, is simply rude. It perpetuates racist beliefs and communicates hatred of blacks to the entire world. In communication, 55% of what is communicated is done so through non-verbal means. So if someone chooses to use a symbol to communicate, with no other explanation, then they should expect that what is communicated might not be what they intended at all. It is the listener who determines the efficacy of communications not the sender. And if someone chooses to use the symbolism of the Confederate Flag then they should not be surprised if people conclude they are racist, hateful and bitter. But if they’re cool with that then so I am; because they have every right to believe what they want to believe and speak what they want to speak, particularly when such speech is non-violent.
Sticks and stone will break my bones, but flags will never hurt me. Let the Confederate Flag fliers have their flag. We should ignore it like the behavior of a petulant child whose parent doesn’t want to reinforce negative behavior. Better yet, blacks should adopt the Confederate Flag as THEIR symbol. If we want to make the Confederate Flag, or its hateful symbolism, go away then blacks should adopt it as their symbol of resiliency, strength and fortitude. Much like we Christians have adopted the cross as our symbol of our faith, for it was in enduring the cross that our hero created an enduring example for us, blacks should adopt the Confederate Flag as their symbol of their ancestors who endured southern oppression. And, really, once it becomes a symbol of black unity, do you really think it will be flown over the capitol of South Carolina? off the back of pickup trucks? or at NASCAR races nationwide? Jesus said that once death had been overcome that it had lost its sting, and the cross—a symbol of the means by which He was able to overcome death—is a symbol of every Christian’s freedom in Christ. Likewise, America should adopt the Confederate Flag as a symbol of the means by which blacks were able to rise up to equality in this country. Maybe next February, every American should fly the Confederate Flag. Stetson Kennedy would be so very proud of us all. Click here: Stetson Kennedy