July 3, 2020

THE PURPOSE SYMBOLS SERVE:

The Confederate Flags of Comer's Store (TIM WEBSTER, JULY 2, 2020, Ordinary Times)

My summer stays there always included a visit to Comer's Store, a quarter mile east toward Gastonia. [...]

The walls were covered with Confederate flags of all sizes and some were cheap enough to consider saving for. These flags were in a whole different category from American flags. The American flag was a sacred object that could only be touched in a certain way and required elaborate display and interaction protocols. But the Confederate battle flag was a banner under which to imagine how a boy might attain manliness and power. As children, we had no idea what principles of government or causes it represented. It was just a cool, brightly colored banner that could help a lad feel strong and bold. It was what you used to cap off a fort or a tree house you built in the woods. It was a streamer to be placed on the rear carrier of your silver Sears bike. And later, it was what you put in the front license plate holder to establish emotional ownership of a "new" 48 Ford just bought with your Winn Dixie bag boy earnings. Catching bugs on its way to Myrtle Beach for a few days of wild teenage freedom, it declared: We are proud and feisty Southern boys and we will not be made to feel inferior to the Yankees running the country .

Oddly, in 1960 and for many years after in my mind, that flag had no relationship whatsoever to Blacks living in the dilapidated structures of Kings Mountain's "colored town" where my dad went to recruit cotton pickers in September. It had no connection in my mind to the obvious discomfort of Black teenagers coming for the first time to use a new high school building with "us" in 1965. As teens during the whole decade of the 60s, most of "us" were utterly unaware of far off events. The bombing of churches in Montgomery seemed like a terrible thing done by individuals we might now call "bad apples" in Alabama, a distant place with a loud governor. For me, it took many years to see how much pain and suffering has been caused by the ideas and ideals of white supremacy.

It took even longer to recognize the clever ways that we have been seduced into being quiet cogs in the oblivious culture that can't see racism in our flags and monuments. The monuments and flags made us white Southerners feel -- instead of the progeny of defeated defenders of human cruelty -- like just good ordinary people who appreciate "our heritage." To my child mind in 1960 the Confederate flag never was intended to hurt anybody. As a pedagogic device, Mr. Comer's flags for sale worked much better than the angry and confusing "Impeach Earl Warren" billboard that he sponsored. Mr. Comer used those flags to efficiently recruit me and others of my generation into a special kind of passive, blind and "nice" racism. This kind of racism has no anger in it, but it is racism nevertheless -- on autopilot. It is time now to remove the shackles from our eyes as we remove the monuments and take steps to ostracize the offensive flags.

Posted by at July 3, 2020 6:59 PM

  

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