The controversy raging around the display of the Confederate flag breaks my heart. This symbol of southern pride, adopted from a war which pitted brother against brother and usurped by the KKK, should not be a symbol at all. We southerners have many things to be proud of, and that flag isn’t one. Our heritage is richer than that, runs deeper and truer, and we should not allow ourselves to be defined by the stars and bars.
I was born and raised in the deep south, and I’ve lived there all my life. I grew up in a sleepy town on the Florida-Georgia line, where football players were rock stars and Friday nights in the fall were the highlight of the year. A town of Magnolia trees and live oaks draped in Spanish Moss, where pickup-trucks with mud on the tires lined the Baptist Church parking lots every Sunday morning. My southern drawl is sweet as honey-dew or ice-tea on a lazy afternoon in July. I say “ya’ll, bless your heart, and amen.” I love the poetry of Faulkner and Merle Haggard and the opening notes to Sweet Home Alabama.
The land I played on as a child and the woods I scraped my knees in with my cousins were farmed by my Grand Daddy. My mother worked the fields with her 8 brothers and sisters, and in tobacco season her hands were raw and her face was burned by the sun. Most of my family still lives on that land, and our family reunions are feasts of friendship and fresh vegetables and laughter. There is pride in that. In family, a thing which we southerners take very seriously. We take care of our own.
Driving through town, you’ll see American flags flying,whether it’s July 4, Memorial Day, or just a random morning, because patriotism runs deep here in the south. Throughout Americas wars, the South gave many of its sons to the United States. God, Family, and Country. This is much of what it means to be southern. There is also a sense of rugged individualism. My Daddy taught us, like his taught him, to work hard and to think for myself.
And then there’s the icky part. Slavery, the Civil War, Jim Crow, and lingering racism. Unfortunately the Rebel Flag symbolizes those things, particularly to those who are not from the south, and in a more subtle way, those who are, as well. I wish it was not so.
There is a great dichotomy between patriotism and embracing a symbol of sedition. A contradiction in reading the King James version of the Gospel, and then uttering the N word with the same mouth. A lack of gentility and hospitality in flying a flag which is inherently offensive to others. A celebration of the War of Northern Aggression which was actually a war to preserve slavery, a codified, immoral, abomination couched in terms of states rights. The right the states wanted, though, was the right to own people. That’s not something to be proud of.
My social media news feed is rife with posts with rebel flags, and people, some of them dear family members, who defend the idea of displaying the flag because it is a part of southern pride and heritage. Maybe they’ve forgotten or overlooked what it actually means. The more angry the rest of the country gets, the more entrenched these folks become, rather than questioning what they believe to be true.
Once again, brother is pitted against brother, and this flag is hurting the south again, tearing at families, destructive as Sherman’s march. Only now, we are burning ourselves to the ground. The war is over, the south lost, and it was a foolish war in the first place. Get over it and embrace what it truly means to be southern, not some romantic, idealized notion of a past that was never was. We have much to be proud of. Let’s celebrate that.