Getting Wrapped Up In The Flag

06/26/2015 08:19 am ET | Updated Jun 24, 2016
Richard Ellis via Getty Images

I can't help but thinking that all of the recent gnashing of teeth over the Confederate (actually, the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia) flying over the Capitol of South Carolina (while an important conversation) has distracted us from the larger and more important conversations that we need to have and continue to avoid.

While we are busy debating what the flag represents in the minds of those who see it compared to those who wish to fly it, we are not talking about the issues that really matter.

Fact #1: Racism is not dead. Taking down the flag, or electing an African American president will not miraculously transform us into a post-racial society. Racism continues and is pervasive. And it is not only an issue among the poor, the less educated or confined to a geographic region. It is everywhere. Our obsession with political correctness may prevent people from overtly sounding like racists, but it does not change what is in hearts and minds.

Fact #2: The "cowboy" mystique inspires violent acts. Glorifying the single-person-with-a-gun-who-triumphs-against-the-system feeds directly into the mind of those who feel disenfranchised, powerless, helpless and angry. That culture grants permission and encourages those who would see themselves as self-appointing defenders of what they see as 'right.' And sadly, there are voices in the media fanning that sense of isolation, and siege mentality with incendiary claims that there is either a 'War' (note the violent image) on either Christians (over 70 percent of the population) or Women (51 percent). And the glorification of continuing to hold onto a 'lost' cause (such as the Civil War) remains part of this ethos.

Fact #3 Our differences divide us. Despite the hopeful words that children repeat by rote in the pledge allegiance, our nation is not "indivisible." We are a divided people and we have always been -- whether the issue was slavery, the 'gold standard', or the Supreme Court decision that determined that George W. Bush had been elected president, etc. And while it is vogue to say that our government has never been more divisive, our struggle to come together has often led to shoddy and shameful acts; including when member of the House of Representatives entered the Senate chamber and savagely beat Charles Sumner with a cane.

We must accept that, for our nation's history, these three things have defined us. We like to pretend that at least two (#1 and #3) don't exist, but they do. And the second one has nothing to do with the second Amendment. "The right to bear arms must not be infringed" is a right that our Constitution grants every citizen. But when you combine it with the license to act violently against with whom we disagree, and add the specter of racism it becomes a recipe for what we saw in Charleston, at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, in Oklahoma City, at Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook and Columbine, etc.

I am not arguing against the Confederate Flag, or the Second Amendment or political disagreements. Instead we must ask ourselves what it says about all of us that some continue to identify with those who sought to leave our nation. Or why so many of us are all too willing (eager) to kill - and die. Or if we cannot learn how to settle our differences productively and constructively.

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