Things happen in the news sometimes, and I think “hey, I should blog about that,” because I have a lot of opinions on a particular subject and my thoughts can’t fit in a 140-character tweet. But then I never actually sit down and write it out.
(Well, ok, I did last July during the whole birth control ACA Supreme Court case. I guess political posts are something I do once a year now.)
Ok. So. The Confederate flag.
I grew up in Mississippi. The Confederate flag is one of those things that I’ve seen my whole life, in one capacity or another (bumper stickers, flying outside of people’s houses, on the damn state flag, etc). And I don’t want to write a whole long thing about whether or not the Confederate flag is racist, because it is undoubtedly, inarguably racist, and there are no less than a million books and articles you can read about it if you don’t believe me.
(Examples: What This Cruel War Was Over, which quotes the actual secessionist documents, or The Surprisingly Uncomplicated Racist History of the Confederate Flag, which focuses more on the 20th century, pro-segregation use of the flag.)
But there’s a weird thing I keep thinking about in this argument. The people who are in favor of the Confederate flag say it represents “heritage, not hate.” You hear that a lot. I hate that phrase, for what it’s worth. I think it’s a cop-out.
I’ve also heard people say, “I’m a Proud Southerner!”
And it got me thinking about pride in general, and the different things we take pride in.
I’m proud of my kids. I’m proud of my career. I’m proud to be a in a loving relationship with a good man. I’m proud to have built such a strong support system of friends and family in my life.
But being proud of the geographical place where I was born doesn’t make sense to me, because I had nothing to do with it. I’m proud of the things that I’ve accomplished, things where I actively made a choice that led to a good outcome – like, for example, I’m proud that I graduated from college.
Am I proud to be from Mississippi? No. Fortunate, maybe. I suppose growing up in Mississippi gave me a particular perspective on life that I might not have had in other places. I don’t think that perspective is any more or less valid than anyone else born in any other place, though.
I’m also fortunate that I was born into a good family that loves me, supports me, and has helped me to become successful in life. But really, the geography doesn’t matter at all, it’s the people themselves.
And on the subject of family and heritage: my great-great grandfather was a little boy at the time of the Civil War, too young to become a soldier. He had several older brothers who did fight for the Confederacy in the Civil War, and a few of them died in combat. (I believe there were 8 boys total, but I can’t remember how many of them fought in the war. It’s been a long time since I did that genealogy project.)
I also know, because there are African-Americans in Mississippi with the same last name as we had – which is one of those highly unusual, “Americanized spelling of a Swiss name” type of last names – that obviously at some point, my ancestors owned slaves.
But here’s the thing: it’s not hard for me to acknowledge that I love my family, and also acknowledge that my ancestors fought for the wrong side. Those two concepts are not mutually exclusive.
And to be clear, I’m not ashamed of them either. Just as I don’t take pride in anything I didn’t accomplish, I also don’t see the point in apologizing for my great-great grandfather’s brothers, who died over 100 years before I was even born. I have no control over what they did. I’m sure that at the time, they thought they were on the right side of history. And until someone invents a time machine, I can’t go back to try to enlighten them about race issues.
So, yes, I suppose the Confederate flag is part of my heritage. I’ll own that.
But just because it’s associated with my past, doesn’t mean it has to be part of either my present or my future.