To the Editor:
Can we blame all of America’s racism problems on any street appearance of the Confederate flag and other symbols? And purge them by removing any reminders? Cheer respect for diversity (except That One Thing)! Folks won’t have to see the Confederate flag they’ve mistakenly been told symbolizes only white supremacy and support for slavery, so the world will be a better place.
Win-win? Only if we ignore reality and fail to learn the truth about our past. Members of Southern heritage societies do not practice racism as accused. They include Black descendants of Black Confederates who fought both armed and in vital support roles.
Does denying display of Confederate flags and other symbols improve African Americans’ educational achievements, housing, health, etc.? Denigration of the war as fought only to preserve slavery is a widely proclaimed facile fabrication, including at T.C. Williams High School in the 1960s-‘80s while I taught there. I also discovered those American history teachers did not know/teach important facts about our Colonial, Revolutionary, Federal, and Antebellum periods, the War and Reconstruction, the late 19th century and early 20th century. They said they and their students (Black, White, Vietnamese, Afghan, Hispanic, etc.) were interested only in slavery and Civil Rights. The civics teacher said she did not teach the Constitution and Bill of Rights — boring.
Should we blame Southern heritage societies for the Confederate flag’s hijacking by white supremacists and deranged killers? Should we equally blame Christians whose cross was appropriated by the KKK and therefore refuse to allow it on public property?
Insulting our Virginia/Alexandria Confederate heritage by calling it entirely racist does not build a strong community, demeans the people doing the attacking and sets an example directly contrary to desirable civic behavior.
Ironically, at T.C. Williams High School I had to defend the U.S. flag. For many years some teachers and many students treated it with disrespect. Doing so failed to raise those students’ achievements. Now, sadly, I again see adults mistakenly attacking a flag.
I recommend keeping our tradition of flying Confederate flags beside “Appomattox” and elsewhere so we are reminded to learn about our history and accept our responsibility to address continuing problems, reminded of the harsh consequences of division. That is the way to create a better future — not scapegoating which pits people against each other, which was the Charleston shooter’s goal. Those nine victims’ families set an admirable example, so it is all the more regrettable to see people instead recommending the abominable shooter’s way to divide us. Let’s apply the best lessons of recent history even if we don’t know those of past centuries.
Another thought: If we forbid outdoor flying of the Confederate flag and remove other symbols of the Confederacy because their association with slavery is too painful, shouldn’t we also eliminate all outdoor reminders of slavery, including the Edmonson sisters statue and the sculpture at the Contrabands and Freedmen’s Cemetery? (I do not advocate that course either!)
Ellen Latane Tabb