“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”–Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederate States of America, March 21, 1861.
I remember the first time I saw an African American person. At least I think I do. I was in kindergarten. We had a young boy in our class named Adolf, who was the lone black face in the sea of white. We’re talking suburban, white bread, Utah in 1983. My memories don’t generally go back much further than that.
Interestingly enough, I don’t remember Adolf because he was black. I don’t think I really had a concept of it then, and I really couldn’t tell you if the other kids did. I remember Adolf because one day he back talked the teacher, and then she proceeded to try to take him across her knee and spank him. Well, Adolf managed to wiggle free from the teacher by slipping out of his pants and underthings. He then proceeded to run gleefully, and bare ass naked from the waist down, out of the classroom, out the front door of the school, and down the street with the teacher giving chase, screaming, and holding his pants and underwear in her hands. It was a comedic moment that would never be surpassed in 13 years of regular school and 7 years of college
That’s why I remember Adolf. I don’t remember a thing about him after that.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that over the last couple of days in the wake of the Charleston shootings. I’ve been thinking about just how much white privilege I grew up with. My parents always taught me that everyone was equal and the God loved everybody, no matter what color their skin was. The exact same sentiment was echoed in the church in which I grew up. Even though we knew, and taught, that racism was bad, our culture insulated us from the very real issues that so many African Americans faced before that, at that time, and still face today.
We were never really “aware.”
That was in 1983. Fast forward to 2015. (Man, I’m feeling old.) These issues of race are now very much in all of our faces, and you know what? That’s where we need them to be. Any addiction recovery program worth it’s salt begins with the rule that you have to admit that you have a problem before it can be fixed.
America has a problem with race. These shootings in Charleston certainly reflect that. But you know what? This problem goes back further than Charleston, further than Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, or even Mike Brown. I discussed our addiction to racism, hate, and violence in my previous entry: “America The Junkie”
In the last couple of days, this issue of racism and the culture surrounding it has crystalized around the symbol of the Confederate flag that flies over the monument for Confederate soldiers on the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse. It’s also a symbol used extensively by the terrorist who killed 9 people in Emanuel AME Church. When all American flags in South Carolina were taken to half-staff in memory of the victims, the Stars and Bars still flew proudly at full staff.
That says something, doesn’t it?
I have a minor in history and the US Civil War is one of my favorite subjects, so I’ve talked to many people about the subject of the the Civil War, slavery, the “lost cause” of the Confederacy, and what that flag might mean today. I even married into a family from the south who loved to wave around the “heritage not hate” catch phrase. That’s in my past now, but I’ve seen how this argument works first hand.
There are people in the South, and not a small group of people either, that honestly trot out the argument that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery, that it was all about states’ rights and those overly aggressive Yankees who just refused to leave the gentle southerners alone. It’s BS.
Generally conversations I’ve had on the subject go along these lines, in simplified form of course:
“The Civil War was about slavery.”
“No it wasn’t.”
“What was it about?”
“What right did the states want?”
“The right to leave the Union”
“Why did they want to leave the Union?”
“Did that have anything to do with slavery?”
As the quote above from CSA Vice President Alexander Stephens demonstrates, the men who were running the confederacy, the men who were flying that flag weren’t under any delusions about what they were fighting for. Black people were viewed as property, period. White slave owners in the south had invested a lot of money in that “property.” The economic system of the south was built on that “property.”
These are fundamental truths. These are not open to debate. Yet, if you still need some convincing, then I invite you to go read this piece: “What This Cruel War Was Over” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. If you still don’t get it, please go back and take some basic US history classes, because I can’t help you.
The heritage represented by that flag is not one of the gallant Southern Soldier, but one of hate, oppression, and violence. The people who flew that flag then knew it, and anyone who flies it now ought to know it. It is a symbol of one of our country’s worst national nightmares and it belongs in a museum so that we can grapple with the fact that for many of our African American brothers and sisters, this nightmare is still not over.
Perhaps we have a moment here, and if we can seize this moment, maybe there is progress to be made on these issues, while they’re in everyone’s faces. It’s a pity that it apparently took the massacre of 9 innocent people to yank that flag down and start this discussion.
Yet we have to remember that these issues of race will not be resolved by pulling down a Confederate battle flag. Yes, it’s a powerful symbol, but it’s only the beginning, and the same people who are so angry about that flag coming down are just going to get even angrier the deeper we dig into this.
Dig into it we must. We can’t be deterred. we owe it to these 9 people:
Rev. Clementa Pinckney
Rev. Sharonda Singleton
Ethel Lee Lance
Rev. Daniel L Simmons Sr.
Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor
We also owe it to all of our other African American brothers and sisters, so that they don’t have to continue to live in fear in their own country, in their own towns, and in their own churches.
I sincerely ask that God will give us the strength it’s going to take to finally address these issues head-on, and that Christ will make me, and all of you, instruments of peace in these dark times.