A Rant On THAT FLAG, A Demand For Respect
I’m a professional journalist and that means I try to refrain from expressing my opinion on issues in the news. I want my audience to trust that I can have a conversation with anyone that’s fair and unbiased. But no modern journalist pretends to be completely objective. We acknowledge, these days, that human beings have experiences and perspectives that color the way we see the world. We try to acknowledge these perspectives and yet move forward in our coverage in as even-handed a manner as we can, giving fair treatment and equal time to all sides.
I don’t make public policy. My job is to gather information, fact check it, and present it to the audience as objectively as possible so that they can make up their own minds.
I’ve had any number of discussions on the Confederate flag and I think I’ve found new respect for those who fly the flag, in some cases. I understand the deep connection to ancestors and history, and I empathize with the impulse to honor tradition.
That said, as a private citizen and as a mixed race woman whose ancestors were slaves on a Georgia plantation, it’s time to put that flag away.
Listen to a special "On Second Thought" about the Confederate flag's place in Southern culture and society at large hosted by Celeste Headlee:
There’s a reason we don’t display the swastika. That’s out of respect for our Jewish brethren for whom it will forever be a painful reminder of horrible torture, death, and terror. There’s an entire branch of my family gone from our family tree because of the Holocaust. By the same token, my family tree was equally devastated by slavery.
That flag is a reminder, to me and my family, of people who were willing to tear apart this country, kill and die, to defend a way of life that depended on slavery in order to continue. The Southern heritage it represents is a plantation system that could only work because of the free labor of slaves. That’s the only way Southerners could afford the big houses and big hoop skirts and mint juleps on the porch, by bleeding their slaves and forcing them, through cruelty and torture, to work their fields, clean their houses and sew their clothing. That’s what I think of when I see that flag. That’s the image that goes through my mind when the Confederate flag is flown: my great-grandmother raped by multiple white men and then watching while her children were sold away.
It’s easy to be flippant about symbols when they don’t have emotional baggage for you. But this is not about “being offended.” This is about finally, finally, acknowledging the incredible harm this country did to millions of its civilians and showing some freaking respect for the pain we’ve inflicted upon them. The fact that the Confederate flag is only now coming down in some places is a testament to how powerless blacks have been for so long in this country. It’s a hateful, painful symbol for us. Have some respect.