Monday, July 13, 2015
The Flag, The School, Brown V Topeka Board of Education
It's amazing to me how sometimes the world leads to new realizations from seemingly disparate sources. In my last blog post, I wrote about how we were taught a false history, a mythology that glorified the indefensible. I talked about my former high school, Robert E. Lee and the role the Confederate Flag played in my life in those years.
So today, I watched an interesting set of interviews regarding the new novel, Go Set a Watchman, a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, where Scout visits her Dad as an adult. Though it was written before Mockingbird, Watchman is about the adult visiting her aging father. No longer the crusader for justice, he is filled with the segregationist fervor common in the 50's in the south. It was about the difference in how we see our father, one vision of perfection as a child but covered with warts in our own adulthood.
Amidst all this, we've seen the Confederate Flag removed from the capital in South Carolina. We've learned that the Confederate Flag wasn't really the Confederate Flag, but rather was the battle flag for the Army of Northern Virginia, Lee's army. The creator itself proclaimed the flag to be all about white supremacy. Robert E. Lee after the war asked that it be put away and not be flown, and that it was only resurrected in the 1950's in response to the Brown Vs Topeka Board of Education that ordered desegregation as a symbol of segregation and hate. It was in that environment where my high school, Robert E. Lee was opened in 1958. We had the second largest Confederate Battle Flag, second only to the flag flown at Old Miss where we played Dixie and were immersed in the mythology of a Confederate mythology that never really was.
My question is simple. How can we possibly hope to truly move forward as a people if so many cling to a mythology that really never was. It hearkens back to a day not of happy white folks with their "colored" help gathered around supporting their kind "massa," but rather a time when people in order to be controlled had to be whipped mercilessly until they were broken. Segregation and Jim Crow laws were designed to maintain second class citizenship and continued oppression. Then of course came the Civil Rights Movement. Robert E. Lee Rebels became the Red Raiders, and the flag after a protest was retired. Then we replaced Jim Crow with Racism where race need not say its name. It's Mass Incarceration, and while race is not mentioned, statistically it is proven that racism never went away. It just changed its name.
Perhaps in a world obscured by incessant obfuscation, asking for truth rather than myth is simply asking too much. I'm not ready to give up however on the idea that seeking the truth is a worthy goal. Recently I suggested a film idea, and am pitching it to folks like Spike Lee, Ken Burns, Henry Gates etc. We've had tons of documentaries focused on black people. We need to have a really well done documentary on the history of whiteness, race, and our (White People's) culpability in creating and perpetuating the system of race and privilege that remains with us today after all these years. How we tell ourselves lies to avoid the guilt and the culpability for our actions. How white fragility is little more than a copout. We need to face it once and for all so we can all move forward instead of finding endlessly new ways of oppressing others.
Finally, I'm looking forward to reading Harper Lee's new novel. Even as time opens Scout's eyes, perhaps it can work that way for the rest of us too. It's time for the old south, and the national disgrace around race be put to bed once and for all, never to rise again.