The last thing the social media world needs this week is another blog on the flag, so I’ll keep it brief. Sam Watkins lived a quarter-mile from my home and he’s buried in the church cemetery just down the road. He was a private from the Maury Grays and wrote a well-known memoir about his Civil War experiences titled “Co. ‘Aytch’: First Tennessee Regiment or, A Side Show of the Big Show.”
His subtitle has been rattling around in my head this week as I’ve watched the Memes flying around Facebook. Somehow the prejudiced hatred and evil of Dylann Roof morphed from a needed discussion on racism into a distracting discussion about the flag. I understand the connection and maybe the only reason I think it’s distracting because I’m a white man who’s never felt the sting of discrimination. But I think the whole flag controversy is a side-show steering us away from the larger issues and causes of the tragedy.
For the record, I agree with Watkins’ assessment of the flag’s future (written in 1882):
The curtain is rung down, the foot-lights are put out, the audience all left and gone home, the seats are vacant, and the cold walls are silent. The gaudy tinsel that appears before the foot-lights is exchanged for the dress of the citizen. Coming generations and historians will be the critics as to how we have acted our parts. The past is buried in oblivion. The blood-red flag, with its crescent and cross, that we followed for four long, bloody, and disastrous years, has been folded never again to be unfurled.
In other words, its past time for the flag to be retired. I understand its history is more nuanced than pop-culture would have us believe (as is all of history), but I also understand that it’s come to seen by most as a symbol of racism and slavery and, as such, has no place in modern society. It should be folded into museums and battlefields so we never forget or repeat the atrocities of our past.
But wait a minute! Here I go doing exactly what I’ve been lamenting all week–giving my opinion and getting sidetracked. It’s easy to do. We’d much rather debate the appropriateness of the flag than talk about the real issues of racism. As one blogger succinctly put it (and I’m paraphrasing): “So we take down the flag, now what are we going to do about racism?”
That’s the real issue. Perhaps the flag debate was long overdue, but regardless of where you stand, I think most of us can agree it’s not the main issue. The questions of racism run much deeper than a piece of fabric. It’s been over 150 years since the Civil War and over 50 years since the passage of Civil Rights yet racism still exists in our country. What are we going to do about it? That’s the conversation we need to have and I hope we can get back to it after the social media sideshows.