And So It Starts…
This past weekend, in nearby Traverse City, a local off-duty police officer showed up to an anti-racist rally, in a pick-up truck decorated with what is commonly called the Confederate flag. He pulled into a no-parking zone, stepped out of his vehicle and proceeded to down a beer (openly, in a public place) while heckling the protesters.
Naturally, complaints were filed and the Police Department initiated an investigation. It wasn’t his first flag incident. The officer, an eighteen-year member of the force, resigned. The investigation continues. I read the story and did some of my own research.
Last night, as I came out of the grocery store, I passed a large man standing next to his pick-up truck, also adorned with a “Confederate” flag. A man was engaged in a quiet conversation with him; I caught the drift.
“It’s a symbol of racial hatred,” the smaller man was saying.
“No it’s not!” The flag-bearer puffed out his chest and then loudly proclaimed, “It’s about my heritage.” Shoppers averted their eyes and scurried off to their vehicles.
I put my groceries in the car and returned to join in the discussion, “I agree with this gentleman,” I said calmly, nodding in the man’s direction, “It is about racial hatred.”
“No,” the flag-bearer bellowed, “It’s about my proud heritage.”
“Then you’ve got the wrong flag.” I responded. The other man confronting him turned to me and mouthed the words, “Thank you.”
The “son-of-the-south” turned to me in a way that was only slightly menacing. “No, this is the right flag, alright. My ancestors died for this flag.” I wondered if I was going to get myself assaulted, for this.
“No, I don’t think so.” I answered.
“You calling me a liar?” (Often the refuge of a man short on facts.)
“I think that you are misinformed. Did any of your ancestors fight under Robert E. Lee?”
He looked a little stunned. “I doubt that, we’re from Texas.”
“Then you’ve got the wrong flag. That flag,” I said, pointing at his truck, “Was never the flag of the Confederacy.”
“Huh? Well, sure it was. It’s the Confederate flag.” A few people stopped to listen.
“No it’s not. That flag was the battle flag—sort of the regimental colors—for troops fighting under Robert E. Lee. It wasn’t the flag of the Confederacy. There were a number of different flags adopted by the Confederacy during the war, but that flag wasn’t one of them.”
He looked confused. “But… my people died for that flag.”
“I’m not questioning your heritage, but you’ve got your flags wrong. The flag you’re displaying didn’t become popular until the 1950s, when racists started to use it to oppose the Civil Rights movement and the Brown vs. Board of Education case that integrated the schools. That flag,” and again I pointed, “Was never the flag of the Confederacy and was used specifically to show racial hatred and intolerance.”
“Well, I don’t know anything about those other flags.” Now, he wouldn’t even look at me.
“I can’t help you, there. But, the one you’re flying is a symbol of racial hate and intolerance, not the flag of the Confederacy.” Some of the people around us were nodding, almost imperceptibly.
The other gentleman in the conversation added, “That’s what I was trying to tell him.”
The flag-bearer wouldn’t look at any of us. He turned and stalked away. The small crowd began to disperse without a word. My co-conspirator and I looked at each other, and nodded, before going our separate ways.
And that is the danger of having a bigoted bully as President. It emboldens ignorance and hatred. It normalizes bad behavior in ways that make violence and social unrest more and more likely. If we want to live in a civilized society, the rest of us need to step up and stop it, nip it in the bud, whenever we see it. This is going to be an exhausting presidential term.