No matter how much we wish it wasn’t so, no matter how valid it is that skin color is the tiniest variation of pigment amongst countless identical facets of our humanity, skin color impacts each life and shapes each story in ways that we cannot be blind to.
This is why I can’t help but speak up when I hear comments about the Confederate flag. While I am aware of the argument that it’s some new, hot button political topic, it’s not a new grief by any means. For us as white Americans, and especially for those of us who’ve grown up in the Midwest/north, it might seem new. I was oblivious to the fact that government buildings fly the Confederate flag until this year. And I was stunned upon discovery.
I recall my first introduction to civil war history somewhere around 5th grade; remember the churn in my stomach when I read the details of slavery. Shortly after the history class, we drove through a rough little burg and I noticed a Confederate flag painted on the pack of a pickup window. I remember staring at it with alarm and asking mom “Isn’t that the Confederate flag from the Civil War? Why do they like it??” The same confused concerns swirled in my mind when we first drove south for a Florida vacation. Every time I’ve seen that flag, whether as a clueless elementary student or as an adult mother of two African children, I become unsettled and find myself thinking, “I wonder if they still wish the south would have won.” In my mind, the Confederacy=slavery.
We could discuss the flag’s role as a historical image (a representation of one of our most despicable times in American history, I might add), the fact that taking a flag down will never solve racism, compare and contrast it with the Nazi swastika flag (a historical image illegal to fly in many European countries), or discuss government involvement and it’s valid or invalid roles in the issue. There are one hundred articles that have done so already. What I am hoping and longing and praying for is a reflective effort by all of us; imagining ourselves in someone else’s shoes. I live this daily as I imagine my daughters’ futures, but today I’m thinking even beyond that. Not just my mommy heart for them, but what if it was ME?
What if I was the woman on the church floor, soaked in the blood of my dying child who was pierced through with bullets from the hand of one on a mission to “kill black people”? What if I was a teen goofing off with friends, taking dares to do dumb things as most teens do, and I was the one thrown to the ground and hand-cuffed while my white friends watched and went home? What if, when I googled “civil war history” (like I actually did today), and read account after account of states announcing their succession for the primary purpose of maintaining their rights to own black humans, I knew if I’d been born in the 1850’s it would have been me they were planning to purchase? When powerful leaders announced to the country:
“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”-Alexander Stephens (Vice President of Confederate States of America), Cornerstone Speech.
what if my family had been the ones to huddle by the bed that night, weeping and crying out for deliverance, half believing our suffering was a sign we were only worthy of subordinate roles? After all, those in power announced their beliefs, backed them by ill-quoted Bible verses, and refuted those who were “…attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal” –Stephens What if those demeaning, brainwashing messages were directed at my identity, for days and years and generations?
I sobbed as I read Stephens’ speech. I urge you to read it, too. We do well to go back and remember from time to time, as nauseating as it is. Tell me this, if those words represent the spirit of the Confederacy, doesn’t it seem that, no matter how many years pass, its flag will represent suffering and tears and unimaginable despair to a people group whose story traces back to its origin? And since this spirit of hatred is still alive and well in so many who proudly wave that flag today (Dylann Roof being a most recent example), do we not owe it to those whose history bears more scars than we can count, to stop and listen oh-so-carefully when they speak up about something that brings them disrespect or pain? As a nation of liberty and justice for all, I’d say yes. As a person who has taken an oath to the kingdom of Love and claimed Jesus as King? YES!
Isn't kindness grounds enough? Isn't love alone worth it? Could we all just say “I don’t know how it feels in your shoes, I don’t understand all this pain, I can’t heal the wound, but here, rest on my shoulder. Let me kneel down and loosen your laces.”
(This is part 1 of a 3 part series on navigating current issues, white privilege, and building safe relationships in regards to race. I have written this under the assumption that those who are reading are white (since unfortunately 90% of my friends and family are). If by chance you are reading this as a person of color, please, please speak up. Tell us your story. Point out where I’m getting this wrong. Private message me, I have questions and I want to listen, ideally face to face. For the rest of you, I want to hear your thoughts and experiences, too. Bring on the respectful dialogue!)