On Monday, June 22, 2015, Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina called for the removal of a Confederate battle flag from the statehouse grounds. I’m sharing a portion of her speech here, but you can read the entire transcript here.
We know that bringing down the Confederate flag will not bring back the nine kind souls that were taken from us, nor rid us of the hate and bigotry that drove a monster through the doors of Mother Emmanuel that night. Some divisions are bigger than a flag. The evil we saw last Wednesday comes from a place much deeper, much darker. But we are not going to allow this symbol to divide us any longer. The fact that people are choosing to use it as a sign of hate is something we cannot stand. The fact that it causes pain to so many is enough to move it from the Capitol grounds. It is, after all, a Capitol that belongs to all of us.
There are many who will say that removing the confederate battle flag from the statehouse grounds should have been done long before now, that it should not take the racially motivated murder of nine people in a house of worship to move people to act. I would be among those people. But I don’t believe it’s too little, too late. I’d like to think it’s the first step on a very long journey.
There are others who will say that the confederate flag does not represent racism to them, but rather a sense of pride and the history of the south. I respect that. I believe that. And I’m beyond weary of the PC police decrying anything and everything remotely traditional or faith-based being offensive, sexist, racist or homophobic. I get it. I really do.
But this is different.
Much like the Swastika, which once represented good fortune and well being, it has come to represent something deeply painful for millions of people, and it’s time to move forward.
Benjamin Watson expresses the heart of the matter more eloquently than I ever could when he writes,
“Displaying the confederate flag is not inherently wrong. This is not NECESSARILY an issue on which we can take a moral stance. It is not a simple right or wrong dilemma. I understand that for some, the confederate battle flag does not evoke sentiments of racism or supremacy; it is simply a tribute to their heritage, ancestors, and homeland. For others, including the killer, it means much more and for others it is a hiding place for passive racism and group “identity.” It is without a doubt, however, a litmus test, exposing our willingness to deny our liberty, our freedom, to fly the flag of our choice, for the sake of offending our countrymen whose SHARED HERITAGE is conversely stained with death, injustice, rape, terror and inferiority.”
Mr. Watson also shares a story of being new to South Carolina and visiting a teammate’s home his sophomore year in high school. Frank, a white offensive guard on his football team had quickly befriended him, welcoming him as the new guy when others weren’t so quick to do so. Upon arriving in Frank’s bedroom, he was shocked to see a confederate flag hung above his bed. Watson explained what the flag represented to him–how painful it was. The next time he visited, the flag has been removed. Because Frank cared about their friendship, cared about Ben, he “…empathetically removed the offensive banner on my behalf and maybe for the first time heard how painful that symbol could be”.
That is a great example of an open and honest conversation with results that last a lifetime. Ben and Frank are still close friends to this day.
But what of people whose feelings, while you might not intentionally offend, offend all the same?
My parents divorced when I was 11 years old. My father quickly remarried and he and his new wife and stepdaughter moved to Southern California. This was at a time when divorce was not nearly as prevalent as it is today. Needless to say, we were all devastated. My mother was granted custody of the four of us–that was never at issue. My dad just wanted to start over. We did visit him out in California during the summer, though.
I remember enjoying the beautiful weather, ogling over all the surfer dudes and spending time with my dad. But it was also awkward. His new wife was nice to me, and his stepdaughter was pretty cool. Still, I missed my mom. I suppose I talked about her without realizing that my new stepmother didn’t want to hear all about how great my dad’s ex-wife was. In my defense, I was an 11 year old child without malicious intent. I won’t say I was happy that my dad left my mom and his four children to marry her, but I didn’t hate her. Apparently, she thought otherwise. One morning at breakfast, I was sharing a memory about some family trip we took with my dad when my stepmother began screaming at me, “Will you just SHUT UP about your mother? Do you think we flew you out here so that I could hear you go on and on about HER?” I was completely shocked. Not only did her words sting, but her accusations were, to my young mind, completely false. It never occurred to me that talking about my mom would be seen as an insult to her. I just missed my mom.
Many years later, I would come to realize that all that venom she spewed at me wasn’t just about me. She had her own doubts, insecurities and pain. Had I known then what I know now, I would not have talked about my mother when she was around.
Her and my father have been divorced for over 30 years. If I saw her today, I wouldn’t even recognize her. But if I did, I would apologize for what I did. Just because the hurt wasn’t intentional doesn’t mean I didn’t hurt her.
Now I know better.
And when we know better, we do better.
South Carolina now knows better, so they’re doing better. Not to prove or disprove a point. Not to choose winners or losers, but to come together as a community. That’s what I call doing the right thing for the right reasons.
Editorial Note: I am not in any way suggesting that you don’t have the right to display a confederate flag, even if others find it offensive. Personally, I’m sick and tired of virtual strangers telling how I should feel and why. You might even display a confederate flag because it’s offensive. The First Amendment gives you that right. Others may argue that doing so equates to hate speech, but it’s not against the law to hate. As an American citizen, you have the right to free speech, even if it’s offensive. And contrary to popular belief on many college campuses these days, no where in the Constitution does it state that anyone has the inalienable right NOT to be offended. This post isn’t about politics, it’s about empathy.