My Facebook feed this week has been dominated by talk of this flag.
And whether or not it deserves to fly on the grounds of the state capitol of South Carolina, or anywhere. For the record, I think it belongs in one place – a museum. I’m a southerner, and proud to be one. I think the South has given us some of the greatest examples of art and culture in our nation’s history, from the Delta Blues, to Memphis Rock n’ Roll, to Nashville Country, to Atlanta Hip-Hop. I think some of the most amazing writers in the nation’s history have come from the south, including Wolfe, Williams, Conroy, Dickey, Ron Rash, Maya Angelou and Harper Lee. I love the South with all my heart and can’t imagine ever living anywhere.
And I hate the fact that the Confederate Battle Flag flies in so many places in the region that I love. This flag is not a symbol of my heritage. A banjo is a better symbol. A jug of sweet tea is a better symbol. An ice cream churn with a kid sitting on top of it turning the handle is a better symbol. Sunrise over Battery Park in Charleston, sunset on the grounds of Wilkes Community College, the fog across the Blue Ridge Mountains – all of these are better symbols of My South.
The Confederate Battle Flag is a throwback to a time when men thought it was okay to own other men and women as property. And it is a symbol of a war fought in part for that principle. Yes, there were other things that went into the Civil War, but slavery was a guiding principal of the war. And this flag was not erected on the SC State House in the aftermath of the Civil War, it was erected in 1962, as a great big “fuck you” to the US government over the 14th Amendment.
Nothing in my heritage supports the segregationist movement in the United States. Nothing. Nothing in my heritage supports the KKK. Nothing in how I was raised or what I was taught is right says it’s okay for me to carry around a symbol of hatred and oppression because I think it looks cool, and besides, I never owned slaves.
I have been a flag defender. I have been a Civil War denier. I never denied that it happened, but I denied that it was about slavery. Even today, I don’t know enough history to name all the causes of the Civil War, but slavery certainly was a huge part of it. I sit here today, telling you that I’ve used the words “heritage, not hate” to describe the battle flag.
I was wrong.
Symbols are how we communicate as a people. Symbols matter. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t care if anyone burned the American flag. And the power of symbols is in what they mean to people. To me, the Rebel Flag doesn’t really mean much. But I’ve never been told I can’t sit at a counter or in a restaurant and eat my meal. No one ever owned my grandfather or great-grandfather. No one ever shipped my family over from our home and sold us to work in some rich asshole’s field. That’s not my heritage. But for my African-American friends, that flag is a symbol of a society that considered them property, considered them 3/5 of a person, considered their life’s worth to be 40 acres and a mule.
Fly the flag on your private property if you want to. I won’t stop you. I won’t visit you, either, but I won’t stop you. But flying the flag of an oppressive regime on state property is telling part of our population “we don’t care how this makes you feel.” It says “you’re still lesser, because we used to own you.” It says “we can do whatever we want to you, and don’t you forget it.” We are very close to a racial boiling point in our country, and I think it’s critically important that we find more ways to band together, rather than rallying behind divisive symbols of wars fought and lost decades and centuries ago.
But today my Facebook feed is populated by flags of a different color. Or more to the point, flags of every color.
The United States Supreme Court has issued its ruling on gay marriage, affirming what many of us knew and understood all along – that marriage is a right of all people, regardless of color or sexual orientation. It was a surprising 5-4 decision, surprising to me that four educated justices could disagree with this concept. To say that I’m happy with this outcome is a spectacular understatement. I’ve worked in my small ways for gay rights for years, mostly through theatre but also in my writing. I try to portray gay characters as no different than straight characters, unless I’m overblowing something for comedy, which I am wont to do.
I support gay marriage because i think that all people should be able to love and live as they choose. I believe that two men who are committed to each other shouldn’t have to make secret trips to South America and have one of them adopt a child as a single parent because the government wouldn’t let a gay couple adopt. I believe that anyone who has stood by someone as a life partner for decades should be able to sit by that person’s bedside and contribute to end-of-life and hospice decisions. I believe that gay people should pay the same “marriage penalty” on their income tax as the rest of us!
And do you know the impact this has had on my marriage?
Not one bit. There are only two people in the world who have any impact on my marriage – me & Suzy. My marriage will be completely unaffected by the gay marriage ruling, except that I expect to attend many fabulous ceremonies!
I’m thrilled for my friends that can now get married, and my friends who no longer have to worry about whether or not the state they’re moving to will accept their legal documents. And I’m thrilled to see the rainbow flag replace the rebel flag all over my Facebook wall. Maybe we could get the rainbow flag to fly on the SC statehouse grounds.