Sunday, December 11, 2011
I saw this on Yahoo! News a few days ago.
Byron Thomas, a Black University of South Carolina Beaufort student who'd been forced to remove a Confederate battle flag (CBF) he'd hung on his dorm room window, was told Thursday (Dec. 2) by University officials that he could display the flag after all. Thomas had put up the banner as a show of Southern pride but was told by USCB's housing office to remove it after several students complained. The University reversed it's decision on advice from its legal counsel, which apparently suggested that the forced removal of the flag violated Thomas' free speech rights. Thomas has said that he might not put his Confederate flag back up due to his parents' disapproval. However, he says he stands firm on his belief that the Confederate battle flag represents pride and that his generation should help make that the primary meaning of the banner.
When I read this story I felt a feeling of validation. I wasn't the only Black person who liked the Confederate battle flag! Like Byron Thomas, I like the CBF. Initially, I fancied this symbol of the South for purely aesthetic reasons. I like the combination of colors, lines, and stars and I love the St. Andrew's cross--the so-called "X"--that crisscrosses the flag. Later, as my cultural consciousness evolved, I came to respect it as a symbol of Southern pride.
Yes, I'm well aware of the Confederate battle flag's association with racism and slavery. But racism and slavery thrived in America under many different flags, including our national banner, Old Glory. In their marches, white racist groups often prominently display Old Glory right along with the CBF. According to the logic of the Confederate battle flag's opponents, that makes Old Glory a hateful symbol of slavery and racism, too. However, most opponents of the Confederate battle flag don't condemn displays of Old Glory as racist. Like most other Americans, they understand that Old Glory symbolizes America in its entirety and don't define it by one or two particularly nasty negatives. I think the same courtesy can and should be extended to the Confederate battle flag. And I think that's what Byron Thomas was doing, in his own way.
I respect Byron Thomas for taking a very unpopular and misunderstood stand. He's right that his generation must redeem the Confederate battle flag from its dark associations and restore it to the symbol of pride it really is. The South, like America generally, is about much more than slavery and racism. And the symbols of the South are, too. So, I say to Byron Thomas, put your Confederate battle flag back in your dorm room window. Let your fellow students see your pride in your heritage. Blacks are Southerners, too, and we shouldn't be ashamed nor afraid to show it. You go, Byron!