I'm late to the game with this one, but I've been mulling it over for a while.

I was born and raised in the capital of the Confederacy. It's a point of family pride that my ancestors fought alongside some of the South's greatest generals. I had Confederate battle flags and commemorative rebel kepis growing up. My college apartment was on Monument Avenue, right across the street from JEB Stuart's statue. In Virginia, you have to try hard not to step on a Civil War battlefield. They're everywhere. To say I was exposed to this part of our nation's history would be an understatement.

For the first 10 or so years of public school, we didn't get past the War of Northern Aggression in history class. We covered the issue of slavery in the abstract, but given the relative raw scars of the Civil Rights Struggle and Segregation that abounded, it's not surprising. The perspectives presented probably differed from those in other parts of the country, as each region tends to differ in what they consider important. When I lived in Idaho, the kids there thought history began with the Oregon Trail. Virginians got overloaded with early American history.

I never asked my black friends what they thought of the Confederacy or its symbols. To be honest, it never occurred to me at the time. They were my friends, and although I probably made numerous racist comments out of ignorance or thoughtlessness, they still were my friends. What happened 120+ years ago or even 10 years ago didn't matter much to me in regards to them. Perhaps it did to my friends, but it wasn't something we talked about. I can't even begin to claim I understand their experience growing up in the South surrounded by reminders of their ancestors' enslavement. I'd like to think that it didn't affect our relationship, that it was based on our shared interests and personality traits, but I can't be sure. It's not something I lose a lot of sleep over, though, because there's not a lot I can do about it after 25+ years. From my standpoint, they were my friends. Period. Maybe I'm oversimplifying it.

As far as the Battle flag goes, I don't think it has a place on state flags or should be flown over governmental agencies. In many cases it was placed there during Segregation, and the only heritage it reflects is one of hate. Based on my upbringing, my perception of the flag is very different than that of most black people, but I can certainly see their point of view. It doesn't need to be there and it's a rallying point for idiots.

That said, banning it is just plain stupid. Like it or not, it's part of our national history. In museums and flying over battlefields, it's a reminder of how close the United States came to tearing itself apart. It's a period of our history that needs to be remembered. The South was never the glorious fantasy land the Klan wants everyone to believe in, or the pure evil empire as some see it. As always, the truth was in the middle, with plenty of noble coexisting with a whole mess of despicable.

If you ban a symbol, the idiots will just adopt another. Idiots are the real problem, not a banner from a failed revolution. Since they've adopted the Confederate Battle flag as a symbol of their beliefs, at least it's easy to pick the morons out in a crowd. When I see a woman in Walmart with a battle flag tramp stamp, I know there's a fair chance we don't share the same worldview. The warning label saves me all sorts of time.

Marginalized idiots like Dylann Roof seem to pop up periodically, looking for someone to blame all of their shortcomings on. There are idiots just like him all across the country. I've met them in every state. Because of my pale skin and blue eyes, I've never had an issue, but I'm sure there are plenty of people that don't get the same pass I do.
I've lived outside of the South longer than I lived in it. In parts of the South I see relatively rapid social shifts when I return for visits. Demographics and perceptions are changing. In other parts, change is progressing more slowly. Regional economics and opportunities probably play a larger role than anything else, but the shift is happening. Likely not fast enough, but it's hard to do anything with any sort of urgency in that sort of humidity.
You don't need a flag to be racist. You just need to be ignorant, stupid, and/or easily influenced. We're still dealing with the effects of an institution banned 150 years ago, and the roots go far deeper than a piece of cloth.
Crap, I almost forgot. Bikes, bikes, bikes, bikes...
There. Everything is better.


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