An open letter to Confederate flag defenders: Overcome your ignorance; racism is real

Dear Karen Cooper and other flag defenders,

The Confederate battle flag is a symbol of white supremacy and hatred. This is not some extreme left-wing, Obama super fan interpretation of it. This is a statement of fact. As Ta-Nehisi Coates succinctly and eloquently pointed out in his Atlantic piece, the Confederate states were very clear on their reasons for seceding from the Union.

Louisiana, for example, specifically noted that slavery was the primary motivation for secession.

“As a separate republic, Louisiana remembers too well the whisperings of European diplomacy for the abolition of slavery in the times of an­nexation not to be apprehensive of bolder demonstrations from the same quarter and the North in this country. The people of the slave holding States are bound together by the same necessity and determination to preserve African slavery.”

No secessionist flag should fly over any nation. Period. The war was fought, and the Confederacy lost. It’s over. The Confederate battle flag is a memento from the losing side. The oft-mentioned reason for holding on to the good ol’ stars and bars is that it’s not about racism or slavery (please see the above quote), bt rather Southern pride.

There are numerous reasons to be proud about Southern heritage — the meals cooked with equal amounts of butter and love, music that flows from the muddy bosom of the Mississippi River straight to the soul and awe-inspiring, natural wonders that no man-made structure could even begin to match. Southerners should be proud about those contributions to the world. But the Confederate flag does not represent those wonderful cultural gifts. That garish red flag with a blue cross slashed across it, waved over battlefields during the Civil War as Confederates took and lost thousands of lives in the name of the states’ right to preserve slavery.

Confederates sacrificed many sons to maintain the cruel and inhumane practice of chattel slavery — an institution embedded in white supremacy. And though slavery was abolished in the United States in 1865, its effects still reverberate today in all facets of life, such as banks red-lining majority black neighborhoods, colorism, de-facto segregation and school resources doled out unfairly along racial lines.

All of these poison fruits come from the tree of white supremacy, the notion that black people are inherently less than white people. That is what the Confederate flag represents. Feeling pride about the Confederate flag equates to believing in white supremacy. That is a dangerous concept, and in recent weeks, this country has seen the ugly violence of  “proud” Confederate flag devotees.

So, Ms. Karen Cooper, when your fellow flaggers and Tea Partiers trot you out at rallies and events with your brown skin and flowing locks, it is not because they believe all black people are great and equal to them. They believe you are “different” (and gullible).

It was painful to watch that video and hear you speak with gratitude and awe about white people smiling and saying hello to you in the South and how that was when it became clear to you that white people weren’t so bad. Of course all white people aren’t bad. Every race contains people with diverse sets of values, morals and behavior.  And as a great songwriter once said, “Respect is just the minimum.”

But you somehow made the leap from understanding that there are good white people to embracing a symbol that represents hatred of people who look like you. As an African-American woman, you almost certainly have enslaved ancestors. Your ancestors suffered under the violent tyranny of slavery. That flag you so proudly wave was flown on battlefields for men fighting to keep your ancestors physically, mentally, culturally and financially shackled. How can you celebrate that?

People like to note that a lot of government-sanctioned cruelty has been done under the American flag, so if we keep flying that, lovers of the stars and bars should be able to keep flying the Confederate flag. It is true that much blood has been shed on the American flag, but the difference is that America was founded on an idealistic notion of equality. (Sure, the founding fathers only had white men in mind when they drew up the Declaration of Independence, but that’s another article.)

There have been good and bad and hard won battles about who gets all of the rights afforded to Americans and hence defining what makes an American. The Confederacy, however, was explicitly created for the purpose of propagating white supremacy and keeping black people enslaved. That’s it. It has nothing to do with sweet tea and magnolia trees.

Also, Ms. Cooper, to your assertion that slavery was a choice … no. Just no.

There is work to do to dismantle white supremacy and get closer to the utopian notions of equality that this nation was founded upon (only this time, the utopia would be inclusive of all races and genders).

The brave Bree Newsomes of the world will keep putting in that work, but please, put down the flag.


Follow Demetria Irwin on Twitter at @Love_Is_Dope and connect with her on Facebook.