Raised in the rural South and as a big Dukes of Hazzard fan, I grew up loving the Condederate Battle Flag. I was proud to be from the South and proud to be a country boy. The flag represented that pride for me.
I believe in free speech and would die for everyone’s right to proudly fly the Confederate Battle Flag on their personal property if they so choose. I do not believe that flying or displaying the flag makes one a racist any more than I believe that not flying it makes one not a racist.
As a white southerner, when I see the Confederate Battle Flag, I may see Southern history. I have the capacity to see Southern pride and heritage. I can see brave men a ho fought for and gave their lives for their homeland. That is what I see.
I think it is interesting that Jesus talked an awful lot about “seeing.” In fact, he talked more about blindness than he talked about sin. He was constantly asking his disciples: “Do you not see?” “Do you have eyes and fail to see.” Furthermore, it is obvious that when Jesus gives sight to the blind, he is symbolically giving sight to others, especially the religious folks of his day.
In the light of the tragedy in Charleston, I now see the flag differently. With many others, I believe I now see the flag more clearly, more wholly, and more honestly, as I now see it through the eyes of those who were murdered in that church.
Since the tragedy, I have been reminded how the flag has been used and abused by hate groups, mainly by people who long to go back to the day when “black people knew their place.” l realize that the flag now has meanings that it was never intended to have. I also am reminded why the flag was raised at the South Carolina Capitol in the first place: as a symbol of opposition to the civil rights movement.
I also understand that it is a symbol. It is not a sign. It is not a historical marker. Unlike signs, symbols have a particular power to excite and to elicit. Unlike signs that give information invoking a response in the brain, symbols stand for something invoking visceral emotions in the heart and gut. So when I see the flag through the eyes of the victims in Charleston, I can understand the consternation that most of our African-Americans citizens have in the South when they see it. Seeing it on a bumper sticker, t-shirt, or flying in someone’s yard is one thing; seeing it flying by the government or endorsed on a license plate issued by the government that should be working for liberty and justice for all is quite another thing, especially if that government has a history of oppression.
As a Christian, I believe in the words of Jesus, “love one another as I have loved you” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” I believe we do that best by trying to put ourselves in the shoes of others, when we try to see the world through the eyes of others, especially through the eyes of the oppressed, the poor, the marginalized, the disadvantaged, the least of these our brothers and sisters.
And it is a shame that it took the slayings of nine people to help me see that.