I can count on one hand the number of times I've seen a Confederate flag: walking through my cousin's Atlanta suburb, on a road trip passing through rural Maryland, and in history textbooks. As a full-fledged "Yankee" who hails from the Constitution state, it's just not something I come across all that often.
On a recent trip down to South Carolina, however, I was in for a rude awakening. My grandpa has seven living siblings who call different parts of America home, but everyone gathered in Myrtle Beach for a major family reunion with all of their kids, grandkids, and even one great-grandchild. The Southern hospitality was impossible to ignore, but so were all of the Confederate flags.
There were two topics that were off limits at the family reunion -- baseball and politics -- but after stumbling upon an entire section of Confederate flag-themed beach gear at surf shops, I had to ask some Southern family members if this wasn't completely out of the ordinary.
"We don't see a lot of them in Florida," my 18-year-old cousin explained. "But there is a huge Confederate flag that flies on the highway near us. It's how we know we're halfway to Busch Gardens."
Just to refresh everyone's memories, we're talking about the official national flag that was used to represent the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. You know, that awkward time period when the South was vehemently fighting to keep slavery around as a means of economic prosperity for white plantation owners.
I've heard arguments time and again about how the Confederate flag is no longer representative of slavery, and how it's now indicative of "Southern pride and heritage." But I'm really over the whole "respect your heritage" mantra, especially when your heritage is hate.
Not only is "Southern pride" rooted in highly problematic histories, but it's also reflective of modern-day racism and injustices. It's especially eerie to me that for $11.99 I could own a T-shirt boasting the Southern Confederacy just a couple of months after George Zimmerman was found not guilty for second-degree murder and manslaughter. Because in the great state of Florida (a state whose flag was modeled after the original Confederate flag) the "stand your ground" law protects an armed citizen who was instructed by police not to leave his car and follow the "suspect" instead of an unarmed teenager who was profiled on the basis of race.
The history of the United States of America is deeply rooted in obvious and inherent kinds of racism against countless ethnic groups, there's no doubt about that. But it's not just by happenstance that this specific symbol of hate is so relevant below the Mason-Dixon line.
In tiptoeing around what "Southern pride" is actually representative of and refusing to condemn the Confederate flag as the horrific reminder of human slavery and discrimination it is, we're inherently encouraging modern-day acts of racism and ideologies that are straight-up wrong.
We can keep thinking it's a coincidence that such blatant acts of structural racism are happening in states that have an affinity for the Confederate flag. Or, in the wake of recent racially charged conversations and concerns, we can say a nice, big farewell to this scary symbol that represents all things awful.
At the very least, we can pledge to stop buying Confederate flags on boogie boards.
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