7/10/2015

Word had come to me that our state house of representatives had voted to remove the flag from the capitol grounds and place it in the Confederate Relic Room with its own area where those who believe in its heritage can give it the reverence that it deserves. For those who believed that it flew in the “face” of a large portion of the population and represented hate and racism, kidnapped or not, at least, it is out of sight, if not out of mind. That short journey began at 10:10 this morning and, thankfully, was over in the blink of an eye, although what it all means will continue to be debated ad nauseam, including, I hope, this set of stories. In the year 2000 I felt the flag should have been removed but, unlike now, I was too chickenshit to say it. Despite feeling one wrong has been righted, I am also thankful that those of us who want to celebrate our heritage still have the opportunity to do so…in any way we so desire, provided it is not illegal and doesn’t infringe on the rights of others. That might be the fly in the ointment or, maybe worse, the “Baby Ruth” in the swimming pool.
I have always questioned where my rights ended and others began. You want to play your music loud, louder and loudest and employ woofers that could create a sonic wave strong enough to knock a fighter jet out of the sky. At what point do I get to ask you to turn it down? More to my point – as I have viewed and read the comments on social media or had discussions with friends, I have been both shocked and appalled at some people’s venom. “Some people,” along with everyone else, have those pesky First Amendment rights whether we agree with the “connerie” they might be spouting or not. They have the right to say anything hurtful short of “Fire” in a crowded theater, I guess. They do have the right to call me a stupid asshole just like I have the right to unfriend them on social media which I didn’t. I am so thankful for the grace of the families of the “Emmanuel Nine” and for most of South Carolina. Dylann Roof was definitely one of those “Baby Ruths.” Maybe he has given us an opportunity to examine how dirty and polluted the water was before he climbed into the pool. I hope it will give us the opportunity to drain that pool and fill it with clear and pure water. I would settle for just potable.
It is true that the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia did not pull the trigger that took those nine lives. Dylann Roof killed them and we do not need to place the blame on “that flag” nor should we place it on the gun he did it with or the fact that gays have the right to a civil marriage or that I must have the right to go deer hunting with an AK47. (Sorry, I could not help myself!) We do, however, need to place the blame on those who hijacked the Battle Flag and turned it in to a symbol of hate. That would be people just like me. I was born in South Carolina in 1950 and was taught both the heritage and the hate. It was just two years after Strom Thurmond’s bid for the presidency running as a Dixiecrat, the party of segregation. They might have been the first to hijack it as they rallied round the Battle Flag while playing “Dixie” during their convention. Prior to that time, for over eighty years, the Battle Flag had rarely been seen, used only at parades or memorials and the like, in other words, just as it should have been, the way Robert E. Lee would have wanted. After 1948 it became much more than a symbol of heritage and I lived through it all and saw the efforts to keep African-Americans segregated after Brown replaced Plessey in 1954. I saw it all on my little black and white with Walter Cronkite. I heard it in church and in school but, fortunately, I did not hear it at my parent’s knee. I saw it in “Whites Only” restaurants or restrooms. I saw the burning of crosses and Freedom Rider buses, The Little Rock Nine, The Greensboro Four, Bombingham, fire hoses and police dogs in Selma and an assassination or ten. Thankfully none of it occurred in my part of South Carolina but then I might just be suffering from the disease of cranial rectitus that goes with the color of my skin. I do remember being taught that one did not call “coloreds” mister, “birds of a feather flock together” so much so you never expect to see redbirds with crows. In a history class I learned that the familiar statement “All men are created equal” was not true because you had those people born “lame, retarded and colored.” Unfortunately, too many times these occurrences were accompanied by both Confederate and US flags. We simply must recognize that and admit to ourselves that it is as much about hate as it is heritage.
On a Sunday afternoon in 1970 I stopped in a small upstate “nameless” town on my way back to Newberry for a milkshake that was, in fact, vanilla. As I sat at a concrete picnic table I heard cheers and yelling from behind a stand of trees and privet hedge. Being of a curious nature I decided to wander down a path and see what was going on. As I broke into the clearing the smell of kerosene became strong as a six-foot-tall cross burst into flames with a gigantic “Whoosh!” It was a small cross but there were plenty of white sheets and Confederate flags to go with the fifty or so people in attendance who were cheering the festivities on and shouting about the n@$$%^& bucks who would be raping our daughters during the upcoming school year. Looking a little like a Jewish banker, I remembered that “Curiosity killed the cat!” It was time to make a hasty retreat!
Activities such as this or the Klan rally that took place on the statehouse grounds should not define our culture as Southerners in general nor should it define South Carolinians specifically. We must accept that they are a part of us and as much a part of that heritage as the flag. So are the heritages of the others who live here. I applaud our diversity and love it. Dutch Fork BBQ, The Blues and Blue Grass, Shrimp and Grits, Sea grass baskets, Catawba pottery and an Indian-American governor named Haley – just to name a few things that came from someone else’s culture. I also thank the people who made my re-education possible – those teachers, parents and students whose cultures were different than mine…and the same as mine. All of your feelings count to me and, if being kind makes me too concerned about political correctness, I happily plead guilty.
Mainly I am thankful for a grandmother who, despite living in very racist times, taught me, and more importantly, lived by an old Chinese maxim that was hijacked by the Jews, the Christians and pretty much every major culture in the world – the ethic of reciprocity or what I knew as the “Golden Rule.” For those of us who probably need to hear it again, please pay attention. The way that it was taught to me was “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Or to translate, “Treat others as you wish to be treated.” Despite this universal teaching, it would seem that the world and its many cultures have chosen to ignore it and I don’t care who is at fault. Someone needs to take a first step. Choosing to revere our heritage in a museum and to accept the hate that goes with it might be that first step…if we are brave enough to take it.

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