I’m taking U.S. History Honors, and we’ve been assigned an essay asking us to classify the battle flag of the Confederate States of America as a symbol of heritage or hate during our study of the Civil War.
I like this assignment, because it makes me think. Being challenged to think critically about real-world problems is a part of our curriculum at St. Paul’s that I really, really enjoy.
Across America, the Southern Cross has riled up groups of people and expanded vocabularies by differing opinions over whether or not its modern meaning is centered around hate of African-Americans and their ancestors or around the traditions and livelihood of Dixie. But what’s really intriguing about this debate is that geography no longer dictates opinion.
It doesn’t matter if you’re in the South or the North anymore. The general populace’s opinion on the issue of the flag’s meaning is determined by individual perspective, not mob mentality, and I think that’s really good.
If you think the flag represents animus towards a certain race of people and their rights, that’s your prerogative. And if you think the flag represents those southern nights that make you feel free as a breeze, not to mention the trees (R.I.P. Allen Toussaint), that’s your prerogative too.
But, honestly, the truth is relative.
The truth in the matter is that the Southern Cross means what people say it means. If people hoist the flag at a rally championing dominance of the white race, that obviously is using the flag in a hateful way. If it’s plastered to the top of Bo and Luke’s Charger, it means a completely different thing.
We’re 150 years removed from the Civil War. The flag has come to a fork in the road of meaning and gone straight. The roads diverged lead to paths of hate on one side and heritage on the other.
One of the sources that we got for our History class essay was an article in the Sept. 21, 2015, issue of The New York Times’ Upfront magazine. In the article, it brought up an occurrence that sums up this discrepancy in perspective.
“In 1961,” the article read, “the South Carolina Legislature ordered the rebel flag to be flown from the State House dome. Officially, it was to commemorate the start of the Civil War 100 years earlier. But many people understood it as opposition to civil rights gains.”
That’s the thing that I can’t stand about people discussing the issue. They say the truth is their belief, and the other side does the same.
The Upfront article also brought up that the flag became much more of a symbol of Southern living after the Civil Rights era. It has been “flown proudly from many houses, in public squares, and by fans at NASCAR races.”
The fact that it’s associated with those aspects of Southern life doesn’t make the flag or Southern life itself racist, though. I have a lunchbox with the NASCAR logo on it that my dad gave me. He wasn’t passing on racism by giving it to me, and I’m not racist for having a NASCAR lunchbox.
The thing that I’ve learned from looking in on this issue is that your views don’t have to be centered around making people happy. The flag can mean many things, but as long as your viewpoint is not supportive of America’s greatest moral woe, slavery, then I have no qualms with your use of the flag. There may be groups of people that look down on people who fly the flag, and they may label those people as racist or hateful, but if you’re not acting in hate, there’s no basis for accusing your use of the flag as such.
The decision-making in debates like this and conflicting viewpoints in general needs to be centered around making the correct moral decision, no matter if it’s your heritage. When it comes to conflicts, keep in mind how people feel when symbols like flags are used, because even if you’re just trying to commemorate your heritage, it could be misconstrued as hate.
It’s time to man-up as a society and go forward being models of respect for all persons as St. La Salle, our founder, said.