Sunday, July 12, 2015

Self-imposed Confederate flag amnesia

It is interesting to note the angst, suspicion and antipathy to the Confederate flag. I don't like the Confederate flag for what it was intended to represent: supremacy of the white man over all others of color. Therefore, I agree that it should not be flown by any government, at any level. Taking that flag down is a reasonable, thoughtful and compassionate thing to do. It is how I want my government to act.

If a private person wants to wave that flag in front of his own home, he's legally permitted to do so. The flag can be used as an expression of speech protected by the 1st Amendment. I once had a neighbor that dangled that flag in front of his home. I moved to a better neighborhood because that flag also represents rebellion, a sort of middle finger for the authorities, which didn't seem to bode well for that house or the neighborhood. So I felt justified in moving.

There is even discussion of taking the flag down in museums and removing it from culture in general. This is where I draw the line. The Confederate flag has played an important role in our history and should remain in our museums and our culture as a reminder of the wrong paths our country has taken. It should be displayed in museums with the only other Confederate flag that ever really mattered, the white flag. The Confederate flag should serve as a reminder that we must work every day to defeat everything that the Confederate flag represents.

There is an interesting fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm that emphasizes the point I want to make here: Sleeping Beauty. Sleeping Beauty is a story about a king and his lovely new daughter. At the daughter's first birthday party her guests included family and friends of the king along with several important fairies. But one fairy was not invited probably by oversight, and in her wrath, cast a spell upon the princess. The spell foretold the future, a day where the young princess on her 15th birthday, would prick her finger on a spindle and fall dead. The spell was countered somewhat by a good fairy's spell to limit the damage to 100 years of sleep rather than death.

To save the princess from such a fate, the king removed every spindle from the kingdom, and every cultural reference to the same. In the following years, everyone forgot about the spindle and the princess never saw one until that fateful 15th birthday. (SPOILER ALERT!) On that day, she ventured around the castle to find the same still angry fairy, spinning yarn in a lonely, dusty, forgotten room of the castle. The fairy offered the princess a try at the spindle to learn how to spin yarn, only to prick her finger on the spindle as foretold by the fairy's spell. I guess that's why they call that story "a fairy tale".

Forgetting our history is the problem we want to avoid, for if we forget it, we are doomed to repeat it. It is one thing to ask the government not to fly the Confederate flag. Doing so means that the government acknowledges our wish not to promote what the Confederate flag represents. That flag should remain in our culture, museums and text books to remind us and our children that if institutionalized slavery and discrimination happened once, it can happen again. We need to keep the Confederate flag in our culture not to promote what it represents, but to remind us that we can choose a different path than the one we took so painfully before.

The 1st Amendment reminds us that the right of expression of speech is protected for the people. Not the government.
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