There is nothing wrong with being proud of where you’re from. Pride in one’s roots, the histories that come from there, the unique cultural dispositions that emerge, these are things to enjoy. More often than not, I am very proud to consider myself a Midwesterner, so the last thing I would want to do is to delimit the manner and breadth of anyone’s pride. But there is an all too prevalent and accepted display that has no place in society, and, if anything, ought to be an object of shame and embarrassment: that the Confederate flag is still displayed publicly in the United States, from the front of the state capitol in Columbia, S.C. to houses here in Liberty, Mo. Nothing in this article is intended to be a diatribe against Southerners or the South. This article is, which I never imagined I would have to write in 2014, is a diatribe against slavery and against forgetting.
That the Confederate flag has been re-purposed as a symbol of Southern or rebel pride is historical amnesia at its worst. The Confederate flag is the banner of a confederacy of states that decided that the enslavement of fellow human beings was worth the bloody disintegration of a nation in civil war. A desire to explain the Civil War in terms of “states’ rights” is to try to change the subject from the great guilt that America should feel over its history of slavery. Ariel Castro received a sentence of 1,000 years without parole for the kidnapping and repeated rape of three girls. How guilty is the United States for 250 years of slavery, with a population of roughly 4 million slaves prior to the start of the Civil War? This is not a crime exclusive to the South; the whole United States bears the guilt.
Thomas Jefferson, in a letter discussing the statehood of Missouri, remarks in regard to slavery that “we have the wolf by the ear, we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go.” He may have been correct to question how “safely” the nation could abolish slavery, but that did not justify its continued existence. The degradation of human beings cannot and should not ever be tolerated for reasons of “safety,” social politeness or prudent deference. Commonplace acceptance of the display of the most recognizable symbol of an organization whose creation was based around enslavement, no matter the intent, is to forget the reprehensible crime for which our nation is guilty. I will not listen to answers to the contrary suggesting that “that is not what the Confederate Flag means anymore.” You cannot and should not whitewash history. You need to remember that the absolutely brilliant men who fought for independence and founded our country failed to conclude that slavery was a moral evil.
I’ve put off proving Godwin’s Law as long as possible; as a white male, I can only speculate that African-Americans in the United States seeing the Confederate flag today must feel something not unlike a Jew who sees the flag of Nazi Germany. In my studies abroad, I was saddened to learn that Europeans, not knowing our history, had repurposed the Confederate flag as a flag of rebellion. In the United States, we have no such excuse for ignorance; this is our sad history and “trying to move on” is the wrong approach.
I like to think that at somewhere as open-minded and forward thinking as Jewell, this article is a case of “preaching to the choir.”