A racist’s perspective on the Confederate flag

A racist’s perspective on the Confederate flag

The Confederate Flag has stirred emotion and tension over the past few weeks and prompted a national debate over whether and to what degree it represents hatred, bigotry and slavery. On the cable networks, even the most vocal supporters of the battle flag say that they themselves are not racist.

So how do acknowledged racists feel about this contentious debate? That’s where I come in. I am a racist, or at least I used to be.

I grew up in the Deep South before coming to Maine. Derogatory racial terms were simply a normal part of my vocabulary. I was brought up being told, within my family, that as long as our schools were forced to remain desegregated, America would never compete in the global economy. I grew up believing that the end of slavery was a travesty to our economy and that, at the very least, mass deportation of all African Americans was essential to white Americans’ quality of life.

In my home, Harriet Tubman was referred to as a thief and Rosa Parks as a criminal. As a child, knowing no other way, I shared these beliefs for many years.

At my childhood home, you would find four flags: two Confederate battle flags that hung inside the house, an American flag that flew in front of our house, and a confederate banner or “Bonnie Blue” that flew outside, right below the American flag. The confederate banner is a less recognized flag that was flown at the start of the Civil War as a symbol of southern rebellion over slavery.

That is precisely what those flags meant to us. They were an enduring symbol of intolerance, anger, and lasting resentment over the end of slavery, segregation, and the advancement of all people of color, from the memory of Martin Luther King to President Barack Obama.

Over the years my perspective of the world was shaped by those I came to know and love, by my own experiences that contradicted age-old stereotypes and prejudices, and by developing a greater understanding of history and the world around me. While I, along with most people, recognize that the beliefs I held well into my teens were racist and wrong, at the time I didn’t see it that way.

I saw myself as a good person who had a deeper and more informed opinion about the world. I didn’t see myself as racist against African Americans. I saw myself as a Southern Patriot who was unencumbered by the political correctness that stopped many people from pointing out the obvious truth that African Americans were less successful, less educated, and, therefore, less competent than my race. After all, I told myself, that’s not racist; those are incontrovertible facts.

In the debate around many issues today and particularly, recently, the comments by Governor LePage about immigrants and General Assistance, I see the same logic I used to apply to my own racist beliefs.

The same false logic is seen in arguments about making English our national language, drivers licenses for immigrants and affirmative action. It’s the same false logic behind assertions by some that it is a failing of the African American communities themselves that police keep shooting their children.

The same shallow, flimsy, derogatory stereotypes that once protected my own racist beliefs are used to buttress these arguments and absolve those who hold them of being real racists. They are all based in the same “us versus them” mentality.

Setting ourselves apart based on race, background and nationality and using these excuses and stereotypes to justify making someone else worse off in hopes that it makes us better off, is racist. Subtlety makes our complacency easier, but it doesn’t blunt the harm.

Written by a Mainer who wishes to remain anonymous.

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