Thoughts on Charleston, the Confederate flag, and gun violence

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Hey guys, I posted this on Facebook last night. After some thought, I decided to share it here, too.

In wake of the horrific attack on the church in Charleston last week, I’ve been sitting on a number of thoughts, trying to wrap my brain around them, and trying to mold them into articulate ideas. I didn’t want to react in a knee-jerk fashion, and I didn’t want my words to get lost in the cacophony of social commentary coming from every direction.

But now I’m going to speak.

I don’t claim to have all the insight, and I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers, but hopefully I can adequately provide my perspective, however limited it may be.

First, I want to address South Carolina’s decision to remove what is commonly referred to as the Confederate flag. It was most certainly, and unquestionably, the right move. That’s what I firmly believe. But I also want to expand upon that.

To anyone making the argument that it’s a symbol of “heritage, not hate,” I understand where you’re coming from. As a born-and-raised Southerner, I get that. For a long time, growing up, that was also my view and understanding. But over the years, and especially more recently, my opinion has changed.

After doing a little reading, I came upon William Tappan Thompson, one of the men responsible for designing the ‘Stainless Banner,’ which is a white flag, with another, smaller flag (what we recognize as the Confederate flag) in the top left corner. In his words, which were printed in the newspaper he helped found, the Savannah Morning News, “As a people, we are fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause. … As a national emblem, it is significant of our higher cause, the cause of a superior race, and a higher civilization contending against ignorance, infidelity, and barbarism.”

That being the case, there’s really no argument to be made. Whether we as white Southerners like it, the very creation and intention of the symbol in that flag, which was later taken and used as a flag itself, was to forward an oppressive and racist cause.

That said, to address a point I made earlier, there are many people who simply see it as a symbol of Southern heritage. And while I think we can no longer make that claim in good faith, I also don’t believe everyone who may have an attachment to that symbol necessarily ought to be chastised.

To be clear, the Confederate flag was created with racist motives, and is still used to this day to promote hatred, violence and murder on the part of narrow-minded bigots. However, there are many people who display this flag with only the intention of showing pride in their heritage. And at times, the two mindsets are certainly one in the same, but there is a sizable group who see it purely as an emblem of being Southern.

There are a number of reasons why I suspect we Southerners have a camaraderie that isn’t (to my knowledge) present in other parts of the country. And much of it is likely a residual effect of being the losers of a war our great-grandparents weren’t even around for. To people not from the Southeastern United States, this might be a concept that’s hard to grasp, but at times, I think many of us feel marginalized by other parts of the country, especially the Northeast, for being Southern, as if there’s something inherently wrong with that. There’s a perception, real or not, that we’re being looked down upon simply because of where we’re from. And I think many people see the Confederate flag as a symbol to get behind, bring us together, and represent who we are.

But that flag was tainted from its inception, and it’s not the symbol I want representing me. To quote my best friend, Matt, “There are many other deeper and more meaningful ways to express pride in our Southern roots than a flag. I’ll take my pitcher of sweet tea over the Confederate flag any day.”

You can still show it if you like, although I can’t imagine the implications being worth it, especially when you have to go to such extremes to explain why you don’t believe it’s a symbol of racism (which it is, guys), but it has no place in the public space as an emblem of the state government. And with South Carolina falling in, I imagine Mississippi is next.

Now, on to my next issue.

I don’t get on my soapbox often, although I do occasionally enjoy griping about the stupidity of teenagers, but I want to address one more thing. And this isn’t directed at anyone in particular. It’s just a reaction to the arguments I’ve seen around the internet and on news sites.

As it regards gun violence, people either talk about “the moral decay of American society,” or the ease of access to firearms, as if it can only be one or the other. Why isn’t it possible to come to the conclusion that both issues play a factor in these atrocities?

The whole point of a gun is to be able to inflict injury as easily and as quickly as possible. Of course guns play a role in such a large proportion of violent crimes and mass murders. How could they not? Stop saying they don’t. People hear “gun control” and they think the government’s going to go door-to-door, collecting everyone’s guns (many of which are family heirlooms at this point). That isn’t feasible and it isn’t likely. It’s also not constitutional, as far as I can tell, and I imagine it wouldn’t be a safe move, either. But what it does mean is that we need to do more to keep these weapons out of the hands of people who mean to, or might likely, commit acts of violence and murder.

I strongly believe in the second amendment, but I also believe it’s a right with stipulations. If maintaining a license to drive and operate a vehicle is considered a privilege in this country, with tight restrictions and conditions on a person’s legal ability to do so, then I think we should certainly be far more discerning about who and how we grant access to lethal weapons.

Full disclosure, I’m not familiar with most state or federal laws regarding the purchase or use of most firearms, but it seems clear to me that not enough is being done.

That said, people are quick to point the finger at mental illness as the culprit when something like this happens, which I’m sure is sometimes a factor. And in this instance, I don’t know the breakdown of the murderer’s psychology. But what I do know is that plain, old fashioned hatred and racism are what fueled Dylann Roof’s murderous rage.

And unfortunately, you don’t have to be mentally ill to be a hateful, racist murderer.

To make a reference to my first topic, literally every picture I’ve seen of Roof depicted him with or waving a Confederate flag. With this being the symbol he chose to represent himself, I can’t imagine anyone of pure intentions wanting to associate or represent themselves in the same manner.

Anyway, just needed to get that out. I hope I’ve appropriately articulated my feelings in a way that won’t be misunderstood or misconstrued. Thanks for putting up with this rant.

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