In most education systems across the U.S., students are taught about the importance of the Civil War: The North vs. the South, one side fighting for slavery to stick around and the other fighting against them. As the war raged on, the South flew the ill-famed Confederate flag, one that I’m sure many Americans recognize today — and not for a good reason.
This heinous flag is still etched throughout the states in front of government buildings. It’s also plastered on T-shirts, hats, license plates—the list goes on. I see it hung on a flagpole every single time I go back to my hometown in Virginia. It is a reminder of the rampant racism that continues to plague the U.S. that needs to be put to a stop.
Many white Americans claim that the Confederate flag is a salute to their Southern pride. They say that the flag isn’t racist or offensive, as it is a form of heritage. While it is a part of history, I do wonder: Why is this a history that Americans want to remember? One where the country was laid to flames because slavery——not including the current prison system—was being put to an end. The same goes for Confederate statues being taken down across the U.S. right now. Several fell in Raleigh recently; one was a Confederate artilleryman while the other was a memorial for fallen Confederate soldiers. This all made me very proud to be from Raleigh as it went viral. It should be noted that, according to Jonathan Horn, the man who wrote Robert E. Lee’s biography, titled, “The Man Who Would Not Be Washington,” when the Confederacy fell, even their leader, Robert E. Lee, swore his allegiance to the Union after the war.
“It’s often forgotten that Lee himself, after the Civil War, opposed monuments, specifically Confederate war monuments,” said Horn in an interview with PBS. Even at his funeral, he requested prior to his death that the Confederate flag not be displayed and didn’t want to be buried in his uniform.
There is no doubt that this flag represents hate and bigotry. In June 2015, a young man named Dylann Roof committed a hate crime when he entered a church in Charleston and shot and killed nine Black individuals. Before any white supremacists or nationalists try to tell me it was just a coincidence that Roof flew the Confederate flag proudly, I will remind them of the manifesto that was posted before the shooting.
The New York Times paraphrased this manifesto as it reads: “I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”
For Southerners, the bigots who carry the flag around make the rest of them look bad. In an article by The Atlantic, a Southerner named Tyler Bishop talks about his experience with the racist symbol and his childhood.
Bishop talked about growing up in the South and what it taught him. He learned to appreciate the little things in life, and have a lot of love for friends and family. Bishop also learned how important it was to understand differing ideas from his own and challenge preconceived ideas he had. “Real people—real southerners—are defined by these values every day,” Bishop wrote. However, these values and ideologies aren’t things people think of when they think of the South. Yes, it has to do with how people praise the Confederate flag as a form of heritage, instead of acknowledging its problematic history.
Bishop also talked about how, while symbols are important, using the Confederate flag belittles the South as a region that is entrenched in racism. That is simply not true. It is now the responsibility of true Southerners to forget about the Confederate flag and reclaim Southern pride.
Concluding with what Bishop said: “Because if the Confederate flag is my only means of displaying my Southern pride, then the South has already lost me.”
It is time for the South to let go of this flag and the history that comes with it. Being Southern doesn’t have to include these symbols that, frankly, make minorities feel uncomfortable and unsafe. There has to be more than just Confederate symbols that the South can use to represent its values and strengths. Southerners, let’s reclaim your pride and bring honor back to the South.