The confederate battle flag is being removed from the South Carolina capitol grounds. I have never thought, nor do I think now, that everyone who flies that banner hates black people. That being said I want nothing to do with that flag any more than I do a bright red Nazi banner. I have been somewhat disappointed though not surprised, that so many are complaining about this recent confederate flag backlash. “Things have gone too far,” some say. “It’s just a flag. People need to be less easily offended,” I have heard. “It is ridiculous that they want to outlaw this flag.” All of this has made me do some thinking and reflecting.
I like Mummers. I am more than amused by mummery. My little family and I visited the Mummer Museum in South Philadelphia some years back and we were all amused as I tried on various bits of feather and sequin outfits as is part of the mummer experience. Seeing me all bedazzled was amusing to all, including myself. Whilst adorned in glittery wonder I stood and read a plaque describing how the roots of the mummer strut was the cake walk and how the wearing of black face, meant to mock uppity black folk, was a proud part of mummery till forced by the government to cease the practice in the 60’s. This story, this historical truth, sucked the fun out of my feathered cape. I looked over at my wife and daughter, both with deep brown skin, and felt ashamed at my outfit. I took off my rhinestone crown and my wife, still smiling, said, “Let’s go see the glockenspiels.”
I don’t think mummers are racist. Wearing that outfit did not make me a racist. Yet in that moment, wearing those symbols of mummery and learning the racist roots, I had no desire for my black wife to see me and those symbols intertwined. The confederate battle flag is coming down from the South Carolina State capitol building. This doesn’t exactly make me happy, but that is mostly because I am sad it was ever there in the first place. So much more so than gaudy mummer clothes, that flag is a symbol of racism.
When I first moved to Greenville South Carolina they did not officially recognize Martin Luther King Day. There was at that time a raucous debate going on among local politicians and the public on whether or not this should be changed. I was not involved nor was I vocal. I had other things on my mind and I knew where I stood on things, I didn’t need a holiday to teach me things, I went on about my business. Part of that business was getting a new driver’s license. I found the local DMV and during regular business hours paid them a visit to get myself legal. They were closed. Across the door was stretched a festive banner that read, “Closed in celebration of Confederate Memorial Day”.
A message was sent to me right then and there that in this state, my new home, that the memory of white rebel soldiers was more important than black people in general. Perhaps I was jumping to conclusions and misreading the situation. Perhaps. But the message was sent. Those in power at that time wanted to pay honor to rebel soldiers in an official and governmentally endorsed manner, but were in open opposition to doing the same for a civil rights leader who believed in non-violence. What else was I supposed to think? With that in mind I would drive around town and local communities and the confederate battle flag was everywhere. On cars, on flag poles in front of people’s homes, and even affixed permanently on trees lining the highway. It flew from the top of the state capitol. That flag, the same one waved by segregationists as they screamed and spit on black kids who were trying to go school, the same one that leads Klan parades, was being officially waved by the government of the state I now lived in. Those segregationists chose that flag when they gathered in opposition to black people. I’m married to a black person. Every day I would drive around and see that flag, then go home and see my wife and children. How was I supposed to feel welcome anywhere?
It shouldn’t matter that my wife is black. A person doesn’t need to have ever met a black person to care. Why would I want to wave a banner that tells black people I am against them? Why would I want my government to wave a flag that tells black people they are not welcome? But many people do want that flag there. Those who do in fact hate black people repeatedly choose that flag to wave. Because of that, I want nothing to do with it.
No. I’m not happy about any of this.