I would like to confess a burning prejudice of mine. It is the type of thing that I developed on my own. It is not a hand-me-down opinion. It is not a well-researched belief. It is not something I’ve spent a great deal of time understanding as I’ve formulated this uncompromising conviction. I make no apologies for this prejudice and I do not intend to discuss the matter further in an attempt to breach the divide between those that would have me understand their contrasting stance on the matter. My heels are dug in, and I accept the fact that even if I’m wrong about this opinion in the “big picture” sense, I stand firmly on my conviction of the matter.
“Hi, my name is Bonar Crump and I despise the Rebel flag.”
Other than the swastika no icon gives me more pause or prompts a greater revulsion than the Rebel flag. I haven’t always felt this way about the flag. I was a huge Dukes of Hazzard fan in the early eighties. I’m pretty sure I had the lunch box and everything. Back then if I saw a rebel flag I would only think “Daisy Duke.” It didn’t even make me think of the car. It took me to a whole different place of visualizing Catherine Bach in a pair of abbreviated jean shorts and a tied off shirt revealing her sexy midriff. What can I say? I was a 14 year old boy in 1982. But I digress…
I grew up on the "wrong side of the tracks." In the different towns that we lived growing up, I was usually the only white kid within a 3 block radius. Honestly, at certain points of my life I was ashamed of being white. Not in a sense that I was ashamed of the atrocities propagated on slaves by my forbearers. I simply mean that I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be like my best friends who were all Hispanic. They had both their parents. I did not. They ate dinner around the table every evening. I did not. They spoke a cool second language. I did not. To be blunt about the matter, I was raised so “white trash” by a habitually drug addicted mother that most of those Hispanic families in our neighborhoods felt sorry for me. They fed me when no food was available at home. My friends’ moms gave me hand-me-down clothes to wear. They cut my hair for me if I was hanging around their houses on a Saturday when all the kids were getting their monthly barbering done. I was the de facto charity case no matter where I lived.
So much of my youth was spent learning what daily family life looked like from brown skinned surrogate families that when we moved into a fully white neighborhood in SW Oklahoma for the first time I spent every day riding my bike 2.5 miles round trip to the other side of town to hang out with kids I was more comfortable with. And when I say “other side of town” I literally mean that all white folk lived on the East side of the tracks and all people of color lived on the West side of the tracks. I am not making this up. This was a small rural town in Oklahoma that boasted “the first legal hanging after statehood” and proudly displays the "hangin'est rope in Oklahoma" in their tiny local museum. That rope was reported to have been used in 30 legal hangings until the electric chair came into use in 1915. The inference is that there were other hangings not quite so “legal” that took place there. Whether with that particular rope or not is a matter of debate.
I got a good lesson in being shunned by families of my brown-skinned school friends because in a small rural farming town like this one everyone wanted to know what the skinny white boy was doing on “their” side of town. Some folks wouldn’t allow me into their yard for fear that if I got hurt on their property they’d get in a heap of trouble. When you’re in 7th grade none of this makes any sense. When you’re 12 and a grownup picks you out of a group of 10 and hollers at you to get out of their yard, you run like hell. And when you’ve run like hell a few dozen times you start to get the picture that you, the white boy, are not welcome on “their” side of the tracks. It’s an unsophisticated resolution to a sophisticated social problem. Mixing of races in many Southern towns in the late 70s/early 80s was intolerable because social norms and cultural biases take generations to dissolve. But, again, I was twelve and I just thought that I never seemed to belong.
Then came a time when I began to notice that my Hispanic friends and their families REALLY did not like my black friends and their families. My experience growing up was that browns and blacks were far more openly prejudice towards one another than any of the whites that I knew. I think I was always aware of the social tension, but it never made any sense to me. I was always considered a smart kid, but it wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I developed the kind of social savvy necessary to articulate the racial incongruities and injustices I’d experienced during my youth in towns all over Texas and Oklahoma. I had grown up socially, racially, and socioeconomically ambivalent. I just wanted other kids to play with. I didn’t give two shits about what color they were. I just wanted to be part of a group.
I said all that to say this: I’m about as racially divergent in my values and beliefs as a man can get growing up in the state of Texas. That being said, I will not tolerate any racially prejudicial sayings, jokes, innuendoes, or provocations. I may not verbally confront the individual spewing such intolerable poison from their pie-hole, but I certainly will not smile politely or offer any physical sign of something less than disgust. I loathe racial epithets regardless of context or subjective intention. To put it plainly, I’d rather lose a friendship or shun a family member than tolerate that person’s devaluing of another.
To me, the Rebel Flag represents racial discrimination. It is an icon that I’ve come to recognize as a middle finger to the liberation of slaves and desegregation of public schools. It imbues to me a sense of hatred, malice, and racial superiority that I find entirely repulsive. However, I do, in fact, recognize that it’s not my place to project my disgust for this symbol onto others. I understand that there are many other people that I respect highly who will argue a meaning of this flag much more benign than what I’ve chosen to believe. Their belief that this flag has nothing at all to do with racial discrimination is insulting and disingenuous to me. However, I do recognize that I am not the final say on the matter. I don’t get to write the final definition of what it means to the world to wear a shirt, fly a banner, or proudly display a tattoo of this flag. It is repugnant to ME. All that means is that I won’t display the thing. It does NOT mean that I have to indict every person I come into contact with that is a Rebel flag apologist.
If you want to paint a Rebel flag on the door of your car, have at it. It would never occur to me that you SHOULDN’T have the right to paint whatever the fuck you want on YOUR car. And I’d be offended if I heard someone debasing your freedom to choose such a decoration. You have a right to that flag. None of us have a right to DEVALUE YOU. As a matter of fact, I’ll guarantee to give you every benefit of the doubt and keep any opinions I have on the matter to myself. It’s a respect thing. I respect your beliefs whether I agree with them or not. In return, I ask that you respect my beliefs as well.
If you want to hang a Rebel flag in your restaurant I will respect you’re right to do so, but I probably won’t be spending my money in your establishment. It’s your right to fly those colors. Likewise, it’s my right to withhold my business because of what those colors represent to me. However, I’m not going to protest outside your establishment. I’m not going to petition for the removal of your flag. I’m just going to keep my opinions on the matter to myself and spend my money elsewhere.
I realize that empirically speaking a Rebel flag is nothing more than a piece of cloth with three colors on it in a specific set of patterns and shapes. That’s really all it is…nothing more and nothing less. Its representative meaning, however, is extremely subjective. It’s not like a red light at an intersection. We have to all agree that when the light turns red it means for us to STOP. Without that kind of universal understanding a lot of people get hurt. The flag thing is different because it’s entirely subjective by its very nature. We don’t all have to have one very specific universal understanding of what that rectangular piece of cloth represents.