In the summer of 1994, I drove around with a Confederate flag license plate on the front of my car. I was about to begin my freshman year at the University of Arkansas. I thought stupidly that flag made me edgy. I was wrong. It made me an asshole.
I knew it, even if at the time I pretended I didn’t. I knew it was hurtful and hateful. I don’t remember what reason I gave to save face, but I took it off before I started classes that fall.
The next six years of college and graduate school were a transformative time for me. I met people who had very different life experiences than I did. I began to see the world from a different perspective. I changed. Slowly, gradually…I changed.
We moved back to Little Rock in 2000. But change wasn’t done with me yet. I kept meeting new people. I kept running up against ideas and thought processes that challenged the way I’d always seen the world.
I had to accept that there were parts of me that I am not proud of. There are blind spots hidden by assumptions I’d long held. Friends and colleagues have been my patient teachers. They have educated me about race, religion, gender and class structure, and how it helps some, while it hurts others. They have genuinely invested in me so I can understand the world in a fresh way.
Here’s the thing I have come to understand. There are parts of me that hold ideas and attitudes that are racist, classist, heterosexist and Christian exclusionist. We all have some kind of “-ist.” Those are mine. But by God, I am trying very hard to overcome them.
If you’d asked me at 18 what my values are, I would have told you:
- God is more important than people.
- People are more important than things.
- Kind is more important than smart.
- Hard work is more important than big breaks.
- Weird is better than boring.
- Your never turn your back on your friends.
More than 20 years later, I would still tell you those same things. It’s just that I have better understanding of what it means to be kind not patronizing, how certain structures determine who gets big breaks no matter how hard you work, and how much bigger my circle of friends can be.
So here’s what it comes to, if I as a Christian, Southern white girl with all the baggage that brings, can overcome at least some of the negative parts of the ideology of my youth, so can other people. It’s time for all of us to admit honestly and openly that the Confederate flag is a symbol of hate.
It is past time for Confederate flags to be removed from government property. Because we are a government “of the people, for the people, by the people.” The government is not some kind of “other.” It’s us. We’re it. This is our home, all of our home.
It doesn’t matter if the Confederate flag doesn’t make some white people uncomfortable. We’re not the only ones in the room! If someone was doing something that made your grandmother or wife uncomfortable in your living room, you’d ask them to stop. And if they said they were just fine with it, you’d tell them it doesn’t matter if they’re fine with it. Someone you love is offended, and they need to knock it off.
If you want to see history or heritage, go to museum. That’s where this flag belongs. It does not belong on the front lawn of the collective home of the people of any state.
South Carolina has a bill right now to remove the Confederate flag from capitol grounds. They can use whatever reason they want to save face if they have to. But that flag must come down. A lot of people have rightly and fairly said they are offended. It’s time to knock it off.
Sometimes I think about the people who saw my car that summer, how they must have shrunk back as if I’d slapped them. I’m incredibly sorry that I did that. I was wrong. I have no excuse. Neither does anyone else. We all know what the right thing to do is.
Trust me. I’ve taken one down. You feel a lot better when it’s gone. It’s good not to be an asshole.