The recent “controversy” over the Confederate flag has illuminated for me an unfortunate cultural characteristic, one that goes unnoticed or undiscussed in the discourse of the heated issue.
The flag’s defenders have numerous arguments including citing its history as “nothing more than a battle flag,” the suffocating state of political correctness, and the unlikelihood of its existence instigating violent behavior. While it may be absurd to suggest that the flag’s flight led directly to the deadly atrocities in Charleston, South Carolina, it is not unreasonable to state that the government-sanctioned insensitivity that allowed it to be flown in the first place is intimately intertwined with the passive acceptance of the closed-minded and hateful racism displayed by the shooter.
In other words, a culture that does not have the objectivity to recognize the symbolism represented by the flag — whether felt personally by white people or not — fails its citizens by sheer obliviousness, aloofness, and stubbornness, which are unattractive characteristics of an American society purportedly built on the lofty notions of acceptance, tolerance, and empathy.
While some may believe critics place a disproportionate level of significance on a small piece of cloth, and that the Confederate flag doesn’t personally offend them, countless other hard-working, tax-paying Americans will always consider it an ugly reminder of a ruthlessly violent chapter in our nation’s history that cannot be simply explained away with pretty words and rhetoric.
Why, I’ve been asking myself, is there such vitriolic anger on the part of flag defenders? I understand the emotional, visceral disgust felt by citizens calling for its removal; however, it took me a more careful analysis to comprehend the people adamantly protecting an item that, at best, represents national treason and, at worst, represents a vicious, systematized subjugation of an entire race.
And I believe I’ve come to the conclusion. It’s an exceedingly simple one: People don’t like being told what they must do, particularly in the area of “political correctness.” We place a premium on individual liberties in America, often at the expense of social safety and security (see: gun control debate). And, while featuring the Confederate flag in your home is a very different concern than having it fly over a state building in South Carolina, the principle remains the same: We don’t want to be forced into something.
And maybe they’re right. Maybe forcing the removal is problematic. But, I would argue, the fact that we must force its removal is more problematic, and indicative of a culture that has lost its self-directed moral compass.
White lawmakers can argue the flag’s merits until they’re blue in the face, but until we as a society want to take it down because we truly feel the hurt evoked by its symbolism for so many of our countrymen and women, we are missing the point and perpetuating a crass, defensive, it-doesn’t-affect-me-so-why-should-I-care attitude.