The Multiple Lenses of History



Photo from Lewisburg, West Virginia 

Tim Wise defined lynching as, "the extra judicial killing of any person". There was a period in this country where every 2 1/2 days a black man, woman, or child was hung from a tree. I write these words knowing that I'm the second of my parents children born without a legal challenge to my rights as a human being. My parents went to segregated schools. The history many of my patriotic friends want me to understand happened during the civil war; the history I can't get them to talk about is much closer. It took the south seventeen years to fully integrate schools after the Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas decision.

I grew up in the south. We learned which houses weren't friendly at an early age. Black lawn jockeys, "porch monkeys", and rebel flags meant one thing: stay out. My childhood was full of interactions with people in Bath County who were less than nice to me. Fast forward 30 years and I've watched some of those people wither and die; while some are shells of their former selves: caught between sickness and death with no hope for life. A sad truth of their suffering was the enjoyment I got out of it. I know that's the worst kind of schadenfreude, but it's the truth. I pray that my heart will be softened.

I live in a county that employs one black person. I went to church and school with the black kids who scored the touchdowns, sang in the choirs, played in the bands, and eventually fought in the wars. How does our community thank them? When they come home from college or war they're cut off from opportunity and offered the same jobs on the plantation (a resort that will remain nameless) they had in high school. I know decorated war heroes who carried 75 lbs backpacks in a 110 degree heat in Iraq and Afghanistan while dodging bullets, only to come home and be denied opportunities to work in law enforcement and security.

The Confederate flag symbolizes all of these feelings for me. I understand phenomenology well enough to know the difference between projection and perception, so miss me with all of your how the flag makes you feel sentiments. I'm able to look someone in the eye and understand how proud they are of great-grandpappy's service to the south. I encourage all of my friends who want to wear their stars and bars to fly your flag proudly, just don't waste your time trying to explain to me how the flag doesn't have racist connotations.

Our culture places an emphasis on raising our kids with strong religious roots. If, you believe that teaching kids morality can sustain them throughout their lives, then is it a leap to think someone who was taught they were less than a person could harbor any of those feelings years later? I know black men who've never dated a black woman. Many of these brothers will tell you black women are beneath them. What kind of brainwashing does it take to make someone look at their own people as being less than? I know bourgeois middle-class black folks who have a deep disdain for their own people. How, in good faith, can a person on one side of their brain believe teaching a kid something good can shape their lives for the better, but disconnect the fact that the psychological scars of Jim Crow can last just as long?

Again, the Confederate flag doesn't bother me; with or without any external signifier: I know how to recognize a racist. We're at a point in race relations where a catastrophic terrorist attack by an external enemy might be the only thing that could unite us. The longer we're forced to focus on ourselves, our past, and its impact on the present the more likely it is we burst apart at the seams. We've gotten so good at denying reality that when the blinders are ripped off and we have to see what's around us we huddle protectively in our corners until the next senseless killing, riot, or incident of police brutality happens. It's saddens me to accept the reality that it's easier to refocus our hate than to get rid of it.