The Confederate Flag: people who try to defend its use want to talk about history, they want to talk about culture. But simple truth: it will always have a strongly, indelibly racist connotation. I grew up in a town where a Civil War battle was fought; that flag was everywhere, as a matter of truly being part of local history. But always in that specific context; even with its pervasiveness, what it represented - an army that fought to preserve slavery as an institution - was always foremost. And that they had lost.
Don't get me wrong: when I was a kid, the Dukes of Hazzard had me thinking the Confederate flag was cool for a while, long before I knew what the hell that flag represented. Once I was, say, nine or ten, the scales fell from my eyes. So now when I see a pickup truck with a Confederate flag flying in the back; or a business with it as an integral part of their logo; or even someone with a tattoo of it on their shoulder (true story - saw one last night), I find myself once again confronted with abject human insensitivity. Not that we aren't presented with that every day; but if there were ever a tangible symbol (and it's hard to imagine a more tangible one, in that flags are specifically intended to be physical symbols) of sheer, obdurate cluelessness about race relations, it's the Confederate flag's prominence in parts of this country; and its ubiquity, generally. You'll find people sporting them everywhere, and it's just crazy.
The same lack of empathy is in play when people cite free speech over political correctness. Shit; it's not about political correctness, on a basic level it's just about being polite, and sensitive, and thoughtful. It's not about thought police; it's about being aware. Maybe everyone needs to "be bad" every now and then, and no one can claim to be 100% thoughtful all the time. A lot of people tell jokes they know are awful when they think no one's listening, and that'll probably always be the case. But stubbornly flying a flag which, to many - if not most - if not all in the African-American community might as well be a swastika - that's not just absurd, it's sick. South Carolina is finally about to get it right; time for everyone else to catch up, too. (I'm looking at you, Mississippi). It's never been OK, really; finally, that's being put on the table and acknowledged. A lot of people, I think sincerely, believe that having a black president means racism is over. But all it really means is that we can actually start having the conversation about racism - and, thankfully, it seems like we are.