Last Sunday I visited a friend’s Catholic Church, and I’m glad I did. The Priest gave a much needed sermon that helped to put the recent tragedy in perspective. He was deeply touched that the very family members of the slain were able to look at the murderer and say “I forgive you”. I recently saw the footage, and heard the pain in their voices. I don’t know if they forgive him in their hearts yet. But they said so, because they know that they need to forgive. This deranged young man was driven by pure hate, and that is exactly what he seeks to fuel. If this tragedy leads to more racial division, regardless of which side “wins”, that murderer will have what he wants. As the priest mentioned above was touched by the reaction of the family, he was also appalled by the reaction of so many others. People who’ve never been to the Emanuel AME Church and knew nobody involved has jumped on this opportunity to push their political agenda. I remember this boomer age priest denouncing the “left” and the “right” for their selfish efforts to exploit this tragedy, and he was absolutely right*.
Unfortunately, some are all too willing to let that murderer have his way. There are two groups that come to mind: the anti-gun crowd, and the anti-Confederate flag crowd. With the first, I can at least believe that they act in good faith. They truly believe that if we had better gun control, these kinds of tragedies could be prevented. Though they opportunistically jump on every tragedy to call for more gun control, at least they have a logical defense of a sort. They can say that they are directly responding to the very cause of these tragedies. Still, it’s a far more complex debate than they realize, and best decided by people thinking clearly rather than worked up into an emotional frenzy.
The second group, those attacking the Confederate flag, are no better than those who started harassing Muslims after the 9/11 attacks – actually, they are worse! These are the worst kind of bigots, because they think they are so enlightened. We can argue for years and decades over the history of the American Civil War, and what the Confederate battle flag historically represents. But does anyone honestly believe that most who display it today are pining for the “good ol’ days of slavery”? The average white southerner who displays the Confederate Battle Flag today has no problem with black Americans. He/she likely embraces the symbol as an identity – “Look at me, I’m a redneck”. Some of the more sophisticated will make a more eloquent argument for states’ rights and the 10th Amendment of the US Constitution. Others just like Lynyrd Skynyrd. And yes, some who display the Confederate Battle Flag are racists.
The comparisons to the Nazi Swastika are absurd, however. Nobody in Germany says, “Well, I don’t support murdering 6 million Jews, but I did like the Nazi policies on reparations from WWI, so I display the Swastika because of that. Not the whole genocide thing.” The Nazi regime was built around racial hierarchy. The Confederacy, however, was about as racist as most other nations of the time, including the Union. Furthermore, as terrible as slavery was, it wasn’t genocide. If anyone is guilty of that, it would be the Union, who then went fourth after the Civil War to slaughter the Sioux and Apache. Many were put on “reservations” (much like concentration camps) and barely kept alive in appalling conditions. But I don’t call the stars and stripes a symbol of Native American genocide. Bigotry of every kind must be opposed, and bigotry usually has its roots under pretense of righteous indignation. Just like I don’t hold my Islamic neighbors responsible for the 9/11 attacks, I don’t hold the average neo-confederate responsible for the Charleston massacre.
I’m not into the neo-confederate stuff myself, but if I were, I would at least for a few weeks refrain from displaying the Battle Flag out of respect. Like it or not, the murderer did display that flag. If you want to argue that he had no idea what that flag truly represents – fine. But right now, there is a family in mourning and they do not need to see the symbol displayed by the murderer of their family members. Likewise, they do not need a bunch of supercilious white liberals exploiting this tragedy to attack their political enemies. Before they judge us, maybe they should clean up their own back yards. States’ rights didn’t murder those people at the Emanuel AME Church. Neither did Southern pride, nor did Lynyrd Skynyrd. And they sure weren’t murdered by the 10th Amendment! I was happy to see CNN host a discussion over the Battle Flag, where one man was defending it with the usual states’ rights argument; and another was wanted it removed from state buildings (I wish I could find the clip). I think now more than ever we need to listen to each other, especially in the South. Stop exploiting a tragedy to settle old political feuds, and instead let’s send our condolences to the family and friends of those slain in Charleston at the Emanuel AME Church. Rather than allowing this tragedy to divide, as the murderer** wants, let it unite us.
Links and Notes:
Rod Dreher also wrote an excellent piece on the tragedy
Dreher also wrote a piece calling for the removal of the Confederate Battle Flag. I don’t agree with him, but he makes the case effectively without the kind of liberal, pseudo-intellectual bigotry I mention above.
*I admit to being a Christian of often weak faith, bordering agnostic. But moments like that (the boomer aged priest denouncing the “left” and “right” exploiting the tragedy) certainly restore my faith, because surely it’s easier for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle than for a baby boomer to see beyond the left/right paradigm.
**I don’t call him by name because people who do these things want to be remembered. I won’t give him that.
***I do not display the Confederate Battle Flag here because, as I stated, I think we should suspend use of it for a few weeks out of respect. However, if we can cross the racial divide and have a civilized discussion about the Flag, and race in general, I think we effectively honor the victims by doing so.