Last night, a coward was busy in Lee Park trying to put forth their agenda of erasing the past – or more likely trying to “go viral” on the Internet. Somehow emboldened by recent events surrounding the Confederate flag’s removal on everything from state capital buildings to The Dukes of Hazzard‘s own General Lee, someone too afraid of dialogue took to blaring their ill-spaced thoughts in Krylon.
Personally, I think flying outdated flags and clutching equally outdated symbols are dubious pursuits no matter the context. Imagine flying the British Union Jack at U.S. government buildings. It’s today, not yesterday. It’s a flag pole, not a history class film strip.
But aesthetics aside, flags and symbols often carry personal weight for those on both sides of their meaning – especially symbols born of conflict. The confederate flag being flown in public areas is a daily reminder of not only the historical tension over slavery that spawned the war, but also of the “sore loser” who uses it to demonstrate the racial motives it represents. To still fly the Confederate flag over a century later is only evidence of ideological stagnation. For a government to fly it demonstrates that, while it’s supposedly the protector of the downtrodden, the government itself sees its own citizens as unworthy of that protection or respect.
I admit to not having given the Confederate issue much thought before now – I’m a white Yankee whose ancestors arrived after the war. I basically thought its devotees were backwards hillbillies or antiquated bigots – something between a mullet and a KKK robe. Initially I downplayed its significance (because, like many, it didn’t really apply to me) but then I wondered how I’d feel if Texas was flying a “God Hates Fags” flag over the state capital – as many of our leaders seem to not-so-secretly want.
And then the penny dropped.
These symbols have emotional impact. What I don’t get is this new movement to erase anything to do with the Civil War. It’s as though forgetting the past makes today better – a kind of selective Alzheimer’s. As a member of a group whose history was largely never written, let alone erased, I find this is a specious argument.
“Out of sight, out of mind” is not how a society remembers, understands and advances. It’s how a society forgets and repeats.
Defacing the General Lee statue in Lee Park accomplishes nothing except sucking the air out of a conversation that needs to occur. Is Lee Park better being bulldozed, its name erased from history? Or is it better to remain as is, with appropriately-written historical markers explaining the cause of the conflict, our society’s reaction to it and our continued evolution on the issue of race? I’ll take the latter every time because education and context are what helps society to understand the past and move past it.
Tombstones are placed on graves to remember, not forget.