A Flag Over South Carolina: Your Pride, My Outrage

I sit here, feeling doubt creep in.  Who am I to write this?  I am no one.  I’ve not been elected, pushed forward to lead or showered in celebrity.  I might be smarter than the average bear; then again I might not be.  Who am I? I am you.  Not all of you, because if I was, this would be unnecessary.  Yesterday, last year, last century this was necessary. And we did nothing. Today it is necessary to act.  Change is never easy.  And bluntly, it is rarely welcomed.

In the employment sphere, I tend to be tasked with driving change.  Processes, systems and paradigms – the wheels progress rolls upon – have been my tools for years.  People resist it.  Corporations sometimes fight it.  If you look, it won’t be hard to find the company that squashes new ideas that work, because it doesn’t fit it the current ideology.  You think business is about making money? Not really, business is generally about people holding on to what they have, working hard to keep things the same and not rock the boat.  The boat rockers are often tossed to the sea.  It doesn’t matter if they are showing others a better, more productive, more profitable way to do things; there is always someone who wants to resist change and maintain what is the status quo and THEIR happiness.

For the last 25 years, I’ve held on to one key phrase. One tenet that makes sense to me.  No, not “perfection is the enemy of the good.”  That one is the paean to mediocrity, permission to accept less than the possibility of success.  I am referring to the always ignored, “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

You can eat ice cream for every meal.

You can ignore the drought in California and save your lawn.

You can drive drunk, ignoring the consequences.

You can enable increased corporate profits (and your bonus) by outsourcing middle class jobs overseas.

You can ignore the issues and not vote.

And you can continue to believe that racism doesn’t exist because it is not your problem.

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

The mind space for racial change has come to a head over the last few years.  I believe we – not just you and me, but everyone – need to do what we can for a positive change.  I don’t to come to this lightly and I am not a sudden Johnny-come-lately bandwagon jumper.

In 1980 I made a conscious decision to move away from a group of friends.  It was made easy because I was away in college and they were still in my hometown.  On my first or second trip home I was appalled at the reactions of my friends when they found I was dating a black girl.  It was uncomfortable and I pulled away from them over the next several months.  Did they over react? Did I?  Being Jewish, I was the minority in my High School. In the 70’s the area of San Jose I grew up in was as white bread as could be.  At least it was to my mind.  Did I say this is “racist!”?  No, but it was not in line with where my mind was and I shifted friendships.

In 1992 we saw several white cops beat Rodney King.  Was this racist? No, it was another criminal being beaten by the police.  He probably deserved it.  If he didn’t, it was probably an isolated incident.  I’m sure many of you thought similarly.

I assumed Oscar Grant in some way put himself in a position to be the victim of a sad accident.

Then George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin.  A horrid mistake.  It couldn’t have been on purpose.

Then came Ferguson.  And Cleveland.  And NYC.  And Baltimore.  And the cop sitting at the teenage girl at the pool party in Texas, ignoring the Caucasian teenagers.   Not accidents, but a pattern

And now Charleston.  He even announced how he wanted to kill African Americans.  He was proud.  How many times must we see the same thing to realize that we have a racial problem in our country? Even if Fox News tells us that shooting a man of the cloth is an attack on Christianity, we know it was not.  It was completely racially motivate.  And the gunman told us so.

We could ignore the evidence and keep our heads in the sand.

Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.

My friend Shay writes a fantastic blog Black Girl in Maine.  I don’t always read it, but I am always glad I did. It makes me think.  Her plight is not my fight.  Right? But it is.  She has written on white privilege several times, which used to confuse me.  There is no such thing, right? I don’t’ feel privileged.

I know that last month I was outraged (or worse) because I was given a warning from the water company due to a complaint from a neighbor.  What I had I done?  Nothing.  On deep reflection I realized that MAYBE my sprinklers were on 5 minutes past the 9 am end point for allowable watering.  I can’t describe the rage I felt and I screamed to the water company’s voice mail.

That’s the worst thing that has happened to me in several years.  Let’s compare that to how African Americans fear the police.  We are taught the police are our friends and there to help.  Really?  If you are black, you can get stopped, arrested and hassled because of the color of your skin.  I cried the other day when I read one woman’s twitter feed.  Her 13 year old son was riding his bike in HIS NEIGHBORHOOD when a woman who didn’t recognize him (because he was black) called the police.  The police came and hassled him.  Shook him up.  More than rattled his family.  He was afraid to leave the house. My empathy overflowed.  Sadly, I know this is not uncommon.

That’s white privilege.  I don’t’ have that worry about being stopped and arrested just due to the color of my skin.  People don’t look awkwardly at me when I go into a nice store.  Neither my sons nor I nor most people I know or grew up with worry about this.  You follow the law, be a good person and life is good.  Sadly, this is not the case for everyone.  Wasn’t this country founded on equality?  Words and actions often differ.

I’m not naive.  I know that most stereotypes are rooted in some reality.  I know people that focus on the looting that took place in Ferguson and ignore the underlying issues.  But there is an underlying issue.  There are racial issues that divide this country.  Hundreds of years of abuse (lynching, Jim Crow Laws, segregation, discrimination, elimination of opportunities for starters) have reinforced and increased the racial divide.  While many people speak out and protest others look and destroy. It doesn’t matter what ethnicity you are.

In the 60s the country protested the war.  Protesters didn’t differentiate between soldiers and the leaders that put the US in war we shouldn’t have been in.  Later we protested the Iraq war.  We learned and didn’t blame the soldiers.  We blamed the leaders that lied to us to get the approval to invade a country we should never have been in.  We grew.

It is time to grow again.  This is the United States of America.  A country founded on the premise that “all men are created equal.”  This is not the United States of America, and a few ex Confederate States that believe

“… its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.”

I know in my soul that most of us do not believe these words.  Yes, some people still do.  It is their right to be ignorant and hold on to outdated racial beliefs.  I believe we must stop allowing them to believe it is OK to believe this.  Free speech is a right in this country.  I will defend it.  I believe Nazis can assemble and march.  I defend that right.  I believe racists can believe what they want

But I also fucking believe that it is NOT OK.  .  I believe it is my right to protest and decry all they stand for.  We, as a majority, need to stop cow towing to the few.  Symbols of oppression and discrimination are not acceptable.  They may not be illegal, but they should be not encouraged to be used with impunity.  Of course the Federal Government can’t ban the Confederate flag (or battle flag as the hair splitters want to call it).  But we can.  We can and must take action.

The federal government can and should ban any Confederate items from being flown at national, state, city and municipal locations.  Would we allow any city to fly the Nazi flag with pride?  No, we wouldn’t.  We have power and I don’t mean violence.  Encouraging racism and hate must stop. Now is the time to act, for our outrage to be heard.

Protest. Be vocal.  Post in social media.  It is not OK to be racist, discriminating or hateful.  Stop pretending the symbols of slavery are a source of pride.  You want pride, do something prideful and throw down these symbols. Enable change, and release our shameful past.  We shouldn’t forget, we don’t forget.  But I’m not celebrating the holocaust.  Are you?  Do something worthy of pride.  The fact that you live in the land that fought to keep slaves is should never be a source of pride.  Perhaps consider a move to Qatar.  They encourage modern slavery.

If a store sells Confederate merchandise, I won’t shop there, neither should you.  If a state like South Carolina believes the Confederate Flag is a source of pride, we must remind them constantly that their pride is in discrimination and racial hatred.  That is wrong. There should be protests, Op-Eds and outrage daily, without violence.  We speak with our will, our voice and our spending power.

If I owned a business, I wouldn’t do business with people in Confederate insignia. I won’t spend money where I believe it benefits racists or those that enable racism.  And I’ll protest any network that shows Dukes of Hazzard reruns.  General Lee might have been a great leader, but I will not glorify his war to ensure blacks remained slaves.

Change is never easy. I’m going to offend many people with this.  Good.  Get angry, but fucking think for yourself.  If you really believe there is nothing wrong with flying the Confederate Flag, rethink your values. I’ll defend the right for free speech, but that doesn’t mean I won’t use my right to let you know that I believe, that WE believe you are wrong.  I’m not going to any place that flies swastikas. Why do we allow states to fly the reminders of slavery above African Americans in the South?  It is insulting and increases our national shame. We insult a good portion of country daily with this behavior.  It is unconscionable and we MUST not allow it to continue.

It is 2015.  We shouldn’t hate people for the color of their skin or continue to turn blind eyes to the subtle forms of oppression.  The time to act is now.  I will.  Will you?

This time, just because we can we should. We must.

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1 Comment

  1. Ann

     /  June 24, 2015

    That’s some excellent piece of writing their, Lee. Well said.


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