A Tale of Two Flags
D. Paul Angel
I am currently reading The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell with Sonia Lal and Katherine Hajer (who has already managed to post an early review of it!). It is a book rife with symbols. Some of which are patently obvious, some of which require more than your fair share of mental calisthenics to accept, and all of which are argued to be universal. So it is with this as a backdrop that we have had a week with more discussing of symbols than I can remember.
The impetus for some of this discussion is tragedy. Nine members of an AME congregation were gunned down while attending a prayer service because of the color of their skin. There is a lot to be said about that event in and of itself, and I have thoughts to share, but they need their own place, and I need a better voice to express them. Soon, though, I hope.
The unintended consequence of the shooting, designed to start a “race war,” is that the Confederate flag has been removed from several State grounds, is no longer being sold at major retailers, and has become anathema to the majority of the population. Its supporters cry that it is a symbol of heritage not of hatred, and that it is simply misunderstood. Which is, of course, bullshit of the highest order.
Most of the monuments in the South which fly the Confederate flag were not erected in the aftermath of the Civil War, but a hundred later. In the middle of the Civil Rights movement. So what, heritage, exactly, was the flag meant to celebrate? Since they were put up during the fight for equal rights, the heritage it invoked was meant to be blatantly, obviously one of racial inequality. A harkening back to a time when the Laws and Lawless were both allowed to prey upon people of color.
But the Memorial itself, say the apologists, is dedicated to the fallen sons of the Confederacy who were fighting against an overstepping Federal government in favor of States’ Rights. But, right to do what? The “rights” of the States to continue supporting slavery. They made no bones about it, unlike the modern Confederate apologists, they expressly state it in their papers, and list it as a cause for secession. The heritage of “state’s rights” was a fight to enslave your neighbors based on the color of their skin. The “heritage” of the Confederate Flag IS hatred.
I have been to the State Capitol in South Carolina and I have seen the memorial to the Confederate flag and Confederate soldiers. It is in the very front of the Capitol, on the street, directly in front of the Capitols steps. Off to the side is a memorial for the people of color who were enslaved, and a history of their suffering, and eventual triumph. One is front, on the street, immediately noticeable. The other, to the side, away from the street, hidden. Neither the symbolism, nor its intent, could be any clearer. The Confederate flag is a symbol of oppression, hate, and racism; there is no justification for it to be flying on government lands. None.
This week wasn’t just about a fading symbol of hatred though. It was also about a symbol of love: the Rainbow Flag, symbol of the LGBTQ community, which has so long been legally oppressed in the US. While marriage equality was a huge victory, discrimination is still, pathetically, allowed in both housing and working. So I expect the Rainbow Flag will continue to require vigorous waving for many years to come until true equality is acheived.
The Rainbow is a simple, powerful symbol. Each color is unique, and yet together they form something bigger and more beautiful than anyone individually. At its heart, the Rainbow Flag is a symbol of inclusiveness. After Friday’s landmark decision, the web is full of avatars that have been “rainbowed.” Many of their users though would not identify themselves as LGBT or Q. And yet, they celebrated with the Rainbow their brothers and sisters who are, because it is a symbol of inclusiveness. It is a symbol for a struggle simply to be acknowledged at the same level as everyone else. It is a symbol that love will eventually win over hatred. So how very fitting then, that it flew its highest to date in week when one of the biggest symbol of hatred our culture has ever wrought was finally dying?
I think this is a week most people will remember the rest of their lives. It was, after all, a week of historical significances. It was also, symbolically, a week that saw the independent rising of Good, and fading of Evil.