Last Friday, as we headed to a birthday party, we got stuck in the middle of a Lawn Party parade for a community on the outskirts of town. Lawn Party parades usually feature Little League teams, local car dealers, a church or two, etc. But this one got hijacked by a bunch of people with nothing better to do than fly Confederate Flags off the back of their trucks.
I'm a Southerner. I grew up with the Confederate flag, and I know I've spouted some trash about "heritage not hate" in my past (but certainly not in this century!). Somewhere along the line, though, I had a change of heart and an awakening of conscience. I came to understand that the Confederacy is not integral to who I am as a Southerner - that would be things like porch-sitting, hospitality, and scratch biscuits. I came to understand that the Confederate flag is most often used as a symbol of hate.
The display of Confederate flags at what should have been an American-as-apple-pie-life-liberty-pursuit-of-happiness-equality-for-all parade reminded me (again) of recent disheartening conversations about race relations in the U.S. Those conversations are being received in some pretty ugly ways. Black Americans are struggling to be heard - many are fed up and angry by a legacy of racial animus that has cost them their families, livelihoods, and tragically at times, their lives. It's important for everyone, white Americans especially, to remember that when someone is trying to be heard, the civil thing to do is listen. The civil thing is not to run out and purchase a Confederate flag and then fly it in a parade. The civil thing is not to stand one's ground and yell "But, but, but...I'm not the problem" to drown out the protesters. The civil thing to do is really actively listen. Don't interrupt. Don't make excuses. Just listen.
It's true that listening alone won't stop racial violence. It's true that empathy won't dismantle structural racism. But they are at least good starts, especially when listening leads to introspection. Our communities are full of black activists who are trying to relay critically important messages. I encourage everyone of all racial backgrounds to venture out of your comfy corner of the world, and get plugged into this momentous conversation.
I know this post has taken a more serious tone than most, but these things have been weighing heavily on me. In addition to my sinking heart at the parade, here's another frustrating anecdote. I came home from the Red Wing Roots music festival to find my neighbor flying a Confederate flag with a crest in the middle that says "The South will Rise Again." My 4-year-old daughter noticed it (it's hard to miss as it flaps directly outside our living room window - ugh), and I had to give her the best explanation I could think of about what the flag was, what it meant, and why our neighbors would choose to fly it. It was a tough conversation for me, and I kept thinking about how devastating it would be if I was a black mother explaining that flag to my black child. Lucky for me, my kiddo still associates flags with sports teams. After my long, thoughtful, drawn-out explanation, she responded with, "Yeah, I don't know why they put that flag up. We don't root for that."
No sweetie, we don't root for that, and we never, ever will.