I have a remarkably clear memory of one specific day back in my freshman year of high school: A group of girls and I were sitting around waiting for the bell to ring and talking about what jeans we were going to buy with our hard earned part-time job money. In those days, in my high school, our thirst to fit in was marked by one of two extremes: the super tight, high-waist western jeans called Rockies, or the ludicrously baggy, giant pocket, intricately embroidered denim tents called JNCO's. In general, the FFA-loving, junior rodeo crowd was fond of the Rockies and the sk8ters/gangstas/etc. wore the JNCOs. For the record, I wore neither because we all know that I'm fond of dresses and that I have never been cool.
One of the country girls, who I had always thought looked like Cindy Brady in the very last episode of the Brady Bunch where Cindy finally lets down the pigtails, was talking excitedly about a pair of Rockies she'd seen at Western Warehouse. They had the "Rebel Flag" sewn across the front panel. This was a few years before every toddler in the nation had "Juicy" emblazed upon the butt of their sweatpants and we kept our insignia to the front. In my naiveté, I figured the "Rebel Flag" was some sort of declaration of personal independence, yet another secret symbol that all the kids who got it were in on and I was in the dark. I pictured a goofy smiley face or something. Maybe a cartoonish raised middle finger. I tried to recall every t-shirt I'd seen at Hot Topic the last time I'd gone to the mall and I couldn't remember anything with a flag on it.
Finally, my curiosity overruled my compulsion to look like I was in the know and I asked "what does it look like?" What does what look like? The Rebel Flag? It's the Confederate Flag, dummy. From history class. The one from the South.
Yes, just like the terms "69" and "dime bag," "Rebel Flag" entered my lexicon in the intensely rushed frenzied moments of freedom that come right before the bell released our hormonal bodies to the blissful purgatory of passing period.
Before I had kids, I had an extremely high, squeaky mousey voice and I'm picturing myself now standing up, squealing in my overdramatic fashion "THE SLAVERY FLAG?! YOU WANT THE SLAVERY FLAG ON YOUR JEANS?"
The entire class turned to giggle and smirk at me. It wasn't about that, the girls explained to me. It was a symbol of Southern Pride. They weren't racist, oh no no no no no, not racist. Just proud.
"BUT THE SOUTH LOSSSSSSTTTT!" I whined.
It didn't matter, they said. It was about heritage, they explained. The bell rang. My confusion was lost in the anticipation of heading to biology, where my teacher was like, totally cute.
Today, in the midst of the horrific tragedy in South Carolina, the memory came flooding back to me.
I'm not going to pretend that the moment spurred some lifelong fight for social justice within my fifteen-year-old psyche. Like I said, I forgot it almost as immediately as it happened. I do remember feeling the same sort of confusion and agitation when I discovered there is a popular restaurant called "Soup Plantation," where people willingly eat chowder to their heart’s content without any sort of unease about the name.
I’m also not going to give you a history lesson about the Civil War. We all get it. We had slaves. It was bad. Honest Abe fixed it.
Today, I wonder why we keep glorifying our past injustices. Is antebellum fashion really just that pretty? My love of dresses ends long before they reach the hoopskirt stage, lord help me if I ever show up in anything made out of curtains. We love the idea of a gleaming white estate sitting on acres and acres of perfectly manicured lawn so much that we emblazon it on our cans of iced tea – yet nobody wants to think about the fact that the forced labor of dozens of slaves held hostage was necessary to create such an image.
One of the greatest fallacies we humans continually fall into is if we don’t personally find something offensive then we dismiss its capacity to be offensive to anyone else. This sort of egocentrism thrives in the naming of sports teams, the marketing of snack foods, and of course, in the flying of flags. The message is clear “We don’t care that you find this symbol deeply offensive and it is a direct representation of the continued oppression of your people, we think looks cool so we’re keeping it.”
How many boots did we need to cut off Oñate’s statue before someone said “Hey, this dude was responsible for torture and genocide of the entire Acoma Pueblo, maybe glorifying his misdeeds with 12 tons of bronze is inappropriate?”
I guess we’ll know if the statue ever comes down.
The thing is, if you’re not offended, then it’s not about you. You don’t get a say.
Also, you SHOULD be offended because this is total lunacy.
Our history is riddled with horrifying atrocities, but most of us feel no long standing effects. However, there are many groups of people for which their culture’s blatant mistreatment continues to reverberate through each generation.
It seems unfathomable that anyone could be so proud of systematic oppression so as to insist on emblazoning these ethnically loaded symbols on their bodies, their cars, their state capitols. It takes a psychopathic disregard for the well-being of others to defend such a practice.
As Americans, we don’t usually take kindly to the enemies we’ve defeated in the past. I’ve met men who would rather let a car rot to rust than fix it with Japanese replacement parts, hell no, they’re not supporting the Axis powers. Cuban cigars are illegal. Guantanamo bay is still operational.
And yet, the misguided logic has somehow flipped itself and there are those who’d rather align themselves with the losing side than believe that all men are created equal.
This is devastating. This needs to change.
Next time you think that a culture should just “suck it up,” because it is more important for you to feel cool with your cutesy symbols, just remember, you may have the right to be offensive but you do not have the right demand that nobody be offended.
It’s more important to be a good person than it is be so “prideful” as to defend a debunked ideology defeated over a hundred years ago. It’s more important to acknowledge that your belief system may be flawed than to viciously defend your idiocy. It’s more important to teach our children to embrace the differences in others than to sip your sweet tea under an x made of stars.
Flying the confederate flag does not make you a “rebel” it makes you an idiotic follower. Perhaps the flag’s origins were a little more innocent but it has grown to mean something dark and hostile.
How can anyone support that?
On a side note, the last I heard of the Cindy Brady girl from high school is that she was gifted with a nice set of silicone orbs for her 21st birthday. No word on what kind of pants she wears these days.