It's Time for Southerners to Choose Their Battles

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As I write this, I’m sitting on the balcony of a condo in Panama City Beach, an area affectionately known as the Redneck Riviera and, yes, one of the ten most overrated destinations in the South according to a post I wrote last year. I’m on vacation, so for the most part I’ve tried to disconnect from the rest of the world. But I can’t escape the Confederate flag.

Every cheap souvenir store we’ve visited sells shirts, magnets, and beach towels with the Stars and Bars on them. I saw a teenager at the pool wearing a hat emblazoned with the flag and the word REBEL embroidered on it. And all I can think when I see that flag is, “Not here. Not now.”

I’m keenly aware of what a lightning rod the Confederate flag has been for many years, as well as what it has become in the wake of the atrocity in Charleston last week. I know that pressure has come from all sides for the state of South Carolina to remove the Confederate flag from its capitol, and I know that Governor Nikki Haley has called for the state legislature to act to remove the flag.

One of the most prevalent arguments in favor of the Confederate flag is the “heritage, not hate” line. Plenty of well-meaning people without a racist bone in their body have made this claim over the years. I don’t doubt that I’ve employed that logic myself at some point. Heritage is an admirable thing to take pride in, but when an aspect of that heritage has been used to justify unspeakable acts of evil, then it’s time to let it go.

I understand the resistance to the groundswell to take down the Confederate flag. So many of the voices arguing for the removal of the flag come at us from outside the South. One of the hallmarks of our culture down here is a “leave us the hell alone” attitude toward outsiders – and Lord knows we’ve had plenty of Northerners and others telling us what to do. We Southerners are inclined to protect what belongs to us from those who seek to take it away, right or wrong.

Over at Commentary, we’ve heard from one of those outsiders. Max Boot, a writer whose work I normally cherish, actually wrote that generations of Southerners hold on to a “myth” of Southern greatness. He’s only partially right. The South has had a great, beautiful history; unfortunately the specters of slavery and further racism have marred that history.

The thing is, those ghosts have haunted the history of the entire nation, not just down here in Dixie. To remind Mr. Boot, slavery existed for nine decades under the flag of the United States – not to mention the awful acts we inflicted on the native people of this land – so to use his logic, we must consider any notion of American greatness in the 19th century to be mythical as well.

(Mr. Boot also calls for the renaming of any institutions which we’ve named after figures from the Confederacy. I don’t think we necessarily need to go that far. No one has laid the blame for acts of racism on the fact that a person’s hometown contains a street named for Robert E. Lee.)