I took a hiatus from writing on this blog, not because I am tired of writing nonsense, but I am getting very tired of writing about nonsense; unfortunately, there is plenty of that to write about. The stream of stupidity from the Republican “adults” seems endless and it just isn’t worth the effort to talk about while those who are getting paid to do it (Jon Stewart, et al) are doing a rather clever job with it. But while we have a major reckoning with the Confederate flag (again), it’s time for a little truth-telling – about the flag and about myself. I’ll tell on myself first.
There was a time, when I was in my early twenties, that I wore a Confederate flag on a jacket that I frequently wore. I didn’t wear it because of any racial animosity or anything other than as a “Southern” thing from someone who grew up in Alabama. There truly was no more thinking into it than that, that is to say, there was no real thinking going on about that flag at all. I was finally forced into thinking about it one night as a black man I worked with, a Marine who went by the name of “Slash”, asked me about it.
“Montgomery, you’re a really good guy and I just can’t figure out why you wear that damn Confederate flag patch.”
“Well,” came the feeble reply, “I’m from Alabama, you know, I grew up in the South.” Yes, it rings just as stupid and hollow in my ears today as it likely reads for you.
“Well, so am I! I’m from Alabama, too!”
If I had a reply to that, I don’t recall what it was. What I do remember is Slash saying something along the lines of “think about it”. I did. That night, after coming to some conclusions about the flag, I took that patch off and refused to make any rationalizations about it since.
The rationalizations that surround the Confederate flag have to do with “heritage”. Well, that’s all well and good if you’re a white Southerner who doesn’t think that holding slaves in a country that made the pretense to freedom and liberty is hypocritical. If you happened to be a descendant of those who suffered under such a myopic society, your views of such a heritage might feel a bit differently. Regardless, the flag has nothing to do with “heritage”, it is straight up bigotry. The Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups didn’t adopt the Confederate battle flag by accident – they know what it means and what kind of a culture supported its cause.
Honoring one’s ancestors has a curious quality about it: those who are ostensibly being “honored” don’t know anyone is doing it; they’re dead. Ultimately, the recognition is on display for the living to view. What must be “honored” is the act of defending one’s home against the invaders. Well, why were the invaders invading? Could it be that the Confederacy declared war on the United States and fired the first shot of the war? They did this in the name of secession, something the U.S. Constitution did not expressly give them the ability to do. Then the defenders of flag and heritage will have to begin to lie so to perform the mental gymnastics inherent in defending the flag while disassociating it from the cause of the war. They will tell you that the war was not about slavery, and maybe they are correct in a very technical sense – the war was for secession– but all paths lead to the driver of the economic engine of the agrarian South: slavery. One only needs to look at the articles of secession issued by various states and the Confederate Constitution, where the rights of slaveholders were declared and protected, to see the lie. There is no doubt that the South feared the loss of slavery and viewed secession as the remedy to maintain the institution. There are no lies to tell, no diversions to employ, that can undo this truth.
Yet, there will be those who will continue to try to hide the truth. I can only hope that a portion of those will have a similar experience as I did and stop and think about what that flag really means. Maybe that portion aren’t really bigots, they’re just, as was true for me, unthinking. I had the courage to admit my mistake and I changed. Change is coming and it is good.