La Shawn Barber's post yesterday on dinosaurs (of the non-biological variety) raised the issue of the Confederate flag, and my response to one of the commenters got me to thinking about larger questions.
The flying of the Confederate flag has two meanings, according to the media. To blacks in America, the flag is racist. It screams to them that the people flying it are longing for a return to the days of slavery. To the Southerners who fly it, their flag stands for states' rights and has nothing to do with slavery.
I believe both sides are missing the real reason the Confederate flag flies.
I've watched Braveheart quite a few times, and I identify a little with the story because my paternal grandfather was in love with being of Scottish ancestry. We come from the MacDonald of Sleat clan, which included Flora MacDonald, the woman who smuggled Bonnie Prince Charlie out of Scotland by disguising him as her maid.
The much earlier story of how William Wallace, followed by Robert the Bruce, united the clans of Scotland would likely not have happened if the Scots hadn't had a common enemy: England's King Edward I. Without his (or similar) invasion, the clans would likely have destroyed each other. Fighting was what they did best. Instead, though, they unified against England and after pushing out the English, Scotland got her first king, Robert the Bruce as King Robert I. Scotland remained independent for a few hundred years, until James IV of England also became Scotland's king.
Even though Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales are all part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, the Scots (and I suppose the Irish and Welsh) remain fiercely non-English. My take is that, having once tasted glory, a people group will resist even the slightest hint of assimilation into the conquering culture.
This is true for Texas as well. For a period of nine years there existed an independent country called the Republic of Texas. In 1845, the United States of America annexed Texas, and although a majority of Texans approved the merger, they still retain the collective memory of their nationhood even to this day.
In Texas people fly the state flag, which by strange coincidence is identical to the Republic of Texas flag. There are at least as many Texas flags flown in Texas as there are American flags flown.
My theory is that people cling to their highest glory. High school football stars hold on to their trophies. Somewhere in a box is the bronze medal I won at the big speech tournament my senior year of high school. And Texans, who are now just ordinary Americans like the rest of us, fly the flag that reminds them they were once a free nation.
I think that's what stirs Southerners to fly the Confederate flag. It's not racism or a desire to return to slavery. It's a desire to recapture a former glory. Once, for four brief years, they were revolutionaries, independent, fighting against the tyranny of a Congress stacked against them. They had their own president. They had their own heroes. They had their own flag. They were a free people ruled by no one but themselves, and it was glorious.
And then they lost the war. Their flag was taken away and replaced with the flag that symbolized the tyranny they had rebelled against. Their way of life was destroyed, their homes taken, and their independence turned into only a memory, but a memory that still stirred their hearts, a memory they passed down to their children. The Confederates may have been the losers, but their children and their children's children fly the flag of remembered glory.
For blacks in America, however, there is no shared glory to remember. Thrust into slavery by enemies in West Africa, shipped across the ocean, and forced into hard labor for life in a new world, most blacks here knew only loss and hardship. Even after slavery was abolished at the end of the Civil War, blacks weren't permitted real equality in much of the country. Individual blacks rose to prominence, but as a group they've had no shared moment of greatness.
Until Barack Obama became a serious contender for the presidency.
There are reports that black conservatives are considering voting for Obama in November. This despite Obama's record as the antithesis of conservatism. This paragraph describes the issue well (emphasis added):
Another "very likely" McCain vote, but a more moderate one, will come from Richard Ivory, founder of the blog HipHopRepublican. Ivory has a different view of the Republican Party, one that downplays the past and focuses on building the party up from a local level and bringing in urban African-American voters. "My blog was about starting a dialogue—basically get people to understand some Republican concepts from an urban perspective," Ivory says. And like Varner at Howard University, Ivory finds that some are miffed by his Republicanness and don't quite understand why he would support a "white old guy." But with the general election in full swing, he has found a good way to express his feelings: "I tell my friends, my heart is with Obama, and my brain is with McCain," Ivory says.
For many blacks in America, Barack Obama is the flag of Scotland, the flag of Texas and the flag of the Confederacy rolled into one. He is the hope of glory for a people who have had no such hope before, and as such he may be irresistible.
Check the comments for more on this topic, especially with THEBIGDODDY and ChuckL. In combination, their comments have prompted me to remove the Confederate flag from the top of this post. As Chuck said, "I still would not fly or publicly display a nazi banner (I do not own one). And because of the mixed messages and ease of misunderstanding, neither would I fly a Confederate flag."
He's absolutely right. Even though I believe there's much more going on in the hearts of the Confederate flag wavers than pure racism, the hurt that flag stirs in other hearts is too great. I will not be displaying the Confederate flag again.