#3 Conversations & Wondering

 

I chose again to focus on the use of the confederate flag, and so I had some conversations with people this week pertaining to the subject.  

 

Something interesting came up when I was talking to my mom. This was the idea that people view the flag as a symbol of power and strength. That maybe, for the people using it, it’s something to hide behind.  Or maybe, in a backward way, people admire the values that the flag represents-a twisted version of freedom and white power. The idea of southern pride here in Vermont seems absurd, but maybe that’s not what it’s about. Maybe it’s about feeling powerful and in control.  

 

The next person I talked to about the confederate flag was my friend Sophie, and it made me realize how little our schools teach about the hateful symbolism behind the flag, if they teach about it at all.   When I asked Sophie whether she thought the flag was an issue, she told me she didn’t really think so, although she didn’t know much about it. I asked her what background she knew, and she said that while she knew that the confederate states fought against the union states in the Civil War, she didn’t know much beyond that. I explained a little about how people see the flag as a racist hate symbol, and she agreed that it could be problematic, but went on to say it isn’t really a problem “here.”  Is that a part of it? Do we maybe feel so removed from these issues based on the lack of diversity we see? It made me wonder, that if people feel as if this doesn’t affect them, how could we teach them otherwise?

 

The next conversation was the hardest, but I knew I had to have it. Over the past year or so, one of my conservative, Trump-supporting classmates and I have ribbed each other about our respective political views, sometimes reaching the point of a heated argument. I decided I needed to talk to him about his take on the confederate flag.

 

“I get why people don’t like it,” he told me. “And I don’t have one and stuff because that’s kind of racist but people need to, like, calm down. It’s just a flag.”  Is it, though? I asked him what he thought the flag symbolized.

 

“Well, the confederate army, I guess.”  I asked him about the racist implications and he agreed that yes, it was a symbol of racism, “because the confederates wanted slaves.”  He didn’t seem to understand that it goes deeper than that, into southern segregation and treatment of black people. But, thinking back, he didn’t have a reason to understand that. It wasn’t something we were ever taught in school, and so is it really his fault, or Sophie’s, that they don’t understand?

 

This brings me back to the questions from my previous post, most of which are unanswered or only partially answered after my conversations. It leaves me wondering how schools can do a better job educating kids about things like this.

 

Adelle MacDowell

3 Responses to “#3 Conversations & Wondering

  • “The idea of southern pride here in Vermont seems absurd, but maybe that’s not what it’s about. Maybe it’s about feeling powerful and in control.”

    Many possibilities, as you speculate about a seeming absurdity. Vermonters are rightly proud of the fact that in 1777 Vermont was the first state to abolish slavery, that Vermont is the whitest state in the the country for the most honorable of reasons historically. In current times, your ideas and the questions you raise are of great interest and importance to many.

    Thanks,

    Dixie Goswami
    BLTN NextGen

  • Adelle,

    I want to applaud you for seeking out differing perspectives while conducting these conversations. I’m impressed that you actively sought out someone whose opinion differs from yours.

    Your conversations made me reflect on the various meanings assigned to the Confederate flag. Your mother mentioned power and strength as possible meaning of the flag. I wonder about if some people see the flag as a symbol of independence and rural pride. What do you think?

    Your other conversations made me wonder about reenactors. I used to teach with a colleague who was a Civil War reenactor and I wonder why people reenact wars as a hobby and how it plays into the tolerance of the Confederate flag. I wonder if nostalgia for the past and or a longing for the “good old days” makes it harder to deal with problems in the present.

    Erik

  • Adelle,

    I totally second what Erik said–it’s so great that you sought out opposite perspectives! It sounds like you learned a lot from them, and I did too: when you said you were talking to a Trump-supporting classmate, I automatically assumed he wouldn’t know that the flag was a symbol of racism, and that he might even have one himself. (My own prejudice in action.) It impressed me to know that he didn’t have one because he knew it was racist, but also confused me knowing that he still thought it was “no big deal.” People can be incredibly contradictory–and I think that’s one of the big things about the flag. People may know what it stands for, and yet choose to select only some of those symbols to their liking, ignoring and arguing against the other ones.

    Keep up the good work!
    Greta

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