A few thoughts about “The Flag”

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Due to our cultural and spiritual DNA, black people and white people tend to process things, especially these large national events revolving around race, differently. Until we can become fluent in how the other group processes things, the race conversation will stagnate because we aren’t speaking the same language.

This is very evident in the debate about “The Flag.” I’ve seen dozens of articles and responses to posts about “The Flag” by well meaning white folks who want to talk about the history and all of the facts and data about it. It’s interesting. It’s informative. But it’s also completely tone deaf.

Black people don’t care about the history/facts. The flag brings out very real hurts and fears. That flag has some very strong, visceral associations.

I certainly appreciate all of the history lessons, opinions, and other stuff that I’ve seen shared this week. Seriously. I love history and it’s good to have more knowledge.

BUT HEAR THIS. HEAR IT. LISTEN WITH YOUR HEART AND NOT YOUR MIND OR DEFENSIVENESS AND GUILT:

All of the history lessons in the world (and I’m a student of history…my second choice of profession was to be a history teacher) doesn’t change how that flag makes me FEEL. To be “educated” about what it “really” is doesn’t change what it means for me and many other people. It doesn’t change what it does to my heart to see it.

It doesn’t change the historical image of George Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama standing in front of the flag and his proclamation of “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.”

It doesn’t change the images of that flag representing slavery on some level in the Civil War.

It doesn’t erase the images of white people protesting civil rights and waving that flag.

It doesn’t change the first time I saw the flag as a kindergartner. It was on a talk show featuring the KKK. It was the background of a lighter (or something like it) that was emblazoned with the words “Nigger Go Home.”

It doesn’t change how I felt walking to school as a child and running past the house that had it flying in their yard. I ran because, even as a third grader I associated that flag with those who didn’t like black people. The people who owned that house had an American flag on the other side of their house. They might have been into the Civil War. I don’t know. What I do know is how it made me feel seeing it fly without context.

A history lesson and facts doesn’t change how I felt when some guy thought it was a good idea to drive past my house with the flag mounted in his truck bed, hooting and screaming, the large flag flapping on its makeshift pole. It doesn’t change how I felt when he did the same thing to some of my friends who were also people of color sometime later. It was purely an act of intimidation.

Who flew the flag when and where and unto whatever purpose means nothing when I have to drive past a garrison sized representarion of the flag to on I-95 to go to DC or visit friends in the area. It doesn’t matter to my friend who had to pass that same flag every day going to and from work.

My dear white friend; you want to talk facts. I get it. I get that’s how you relate to the world. I think that black people would do better to gather facts first and not react viscerally in a lot of instances. It would probably help our cause to do so.

BUT…my dear white friend…please listen to me…

I AM WOUNDED. MY PEOPLE ARE WOUNDED. WE ARE HURTING. WE ARE WEARY.

When you share your facts from the place of “Why do you care about this?” Or “you’re wrong and here’s why” or “get over it!” It does nothing for my pain. The issue is what it’s come to symbolize; how it makes a group of people feel. When you do this, it’s like you’re telling me that my pain isn’t real or that it’s not justified.

It’s extremely hurtful to be gas lighted on this issue. Gaslighting is when you do something to someone that causes them emotional pain and then tell them that they shouldn’t be feeling pain or that what they thought happened didn’t actually happen.

When you say that the flag has other meanings, etc. etc., you’re gaslighting. You’re saying, whether you intend to or not, that my associations are false. Like somehow all of my experiences with this flag…all the associations that my people have and the hurt it stirs…is somehow the result of a collective hysteria and not because of ACTUAL racist implications and uses of the flag.  Like black folks just randomly caught feelings about the flag for no real reason.

When you truck out the one black guy that you know who had relatives who were Confederates and how proud he is…when you show pictures of black confederate soldiers in front of the flag…when you talk about how good your slave owning ancestors treated their property and their newly emancipated property…it’s like you’re saying “Look! Slavery wasn’t so bad!”

And that attitude ignores the fact that Black people who actually know their history , where they came from, and the NAMES and BIRTHPLACES of enslaved relatives isn’t all that common…so we’re going to be proud of and claim whomever because if you’re black know your family history that far back, you’re lucky.

It ignores the fact that the overwhelming majority of blacks serving in the Civil war were Union soldiers. It ignores all of the messy implications and reasons why blacks fought for the Confederacy. Just because blacks fought for it, doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t somehow justify the Civil War and change slavery’s role in it. Being a black Confederate didn’t confer any civil rights.

There were lots of good people who owned slaves and who were “fair.” I had ancestors who had “good” masters. I also had ancestors who were whipped and had rock salt put in their wounds. Just because they were good people doesn’t make how slaves were viewed and treated any different. It doesn’t explain away and fix the fact that black people were treated horribly after slavery had ended.

Yes, there are blacks that don’t have a problem with this flag. There are blacks who feel a sense of heritage or whatever that’s tied to this flag. There are blacks who have adopted it to take the sting out of it. Or out of ignorance. Or to fit in and thereby not feel oppressed by it. Good for them. I’m not one of those blacks. I’ve not actually met any of those kind of blacks, though people keep telling me they exist. Stop using them to gaslight everyone else who feels oppressed. If you’re one of these blacks, don’t be deaf to the pain of others.

Instead of trying to “educate” black people out of the pain that the flag produces for them, maybe you should really try to get why it hurts. Telling me what the flag is or isn’t doesn’t erase the hurt and fears associated with it.

Those hurts and fears aren’t invented. No one ever told me to feel angry and afraid when I see it. Interestingly enough, the conclusions that I drew for myself are similar to the conclusions that millions of other blacks have come to:

The flag serves as a reminder of the pain and suffering black people have endured for centuries.

It reminds us of the fact that our nation was divided and fought a war over other people’s right to own us. It reminds us of the fact that people argue about whether or not that’s what the war was over.

It reminds us that there was a time when we couldn’t go to the same schools, drink out of the same fountains, or pee in the same toilets as white people.

It reminds us that ignorance and hate are alive and well.

My dear white friend: This issue salts an emotional wound. It’s not a lack of education. Stop trying to educate me about the flag and/or justify its use to me. My ears hear you, my brain understands, but my heart hurts.

If you care about me, or any other black people in your life, I ask you to stop thinking about the flag from a purely factual standpoint and begin to understand the emotional associations tied to it.

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4 thoughts on “A few thoughts about “The Flag”

  1. Pingback: Black America: It’s time to carpe diem…let’s not screw it up | The Armchair Commentary

  2. This a great piece of work, albeit too long for the average person to read. You are correct, but something a bit shorter bearing the same sentiment might hit home to those less willing. Thanks for your work. Richard

    Liked by 2 people

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