MCCC held a forum over the summer titled The Confederate Flag: A Symbol of Oppression? and gave panel members the opportunity to discuss the nation’s feelings toward the infamous flag.
President Kojo Quartey moderated a panel of three — MCCC student Michael Sexton, community member Selma Rankin, and MCCC Board of Trustees member and former history professor Jim DeVries.
Sexton’s family is from the south and has lived in black neighborhoods most of his life. He said he believes the Confederate flag has many meanings to people — that the South stood for importance of family and neighborly kindness.
The flag has been misrepresented, and display it for familial and heritage reasons—not forgetting that the idea of abandoning a system that has failed their expectations seems to resonate with many Americans.
Rankin said he saw several trucks with Confederate flags in Monroe. It only takes a downtown Monroe stroll along the River Raisin to spot one — usually on a mast in the bed of a raised pickup truck with questionable muffler integrity.
“Those people who’ve got those flags on the back of their truck vehicles—they didn’t go to Vietnam. They didn’t put their life on the line,” Rankin said. “This is 2015—we should be past that flag.”
The church shooting in Charleston was a catalyst for the display of the flag, not only in Monroe but across parts of the Midwest. For many parts of the South, the fever never left.
“Are we safe in church or any sanctuary?” Quartey asked. “It appears we are not safe anywhere in this day and age.”
As an usher at his church, Quartey said that temples should be a safe refuge for all. He himself admitted, as a black American, he does not face his back to the entrances of buildings.
Rankin said what happened in Charleston could also happen in Monroe. He congratulated MCCC for electing a black president.
In 1962, long after most Southern states had removed Confederate flags from statehouses, South Carolina placed one on the capitol grounds, which DeVries said was a direct protest against the Civil Rights movement.
The question now, DeVries says, is how symbols change over time.
“I think it’s significant that not a small portion of white South Carolinians agree with taking down the flag,” he said.
Attention has been brought back to the threat of white supremacy. Yet for many Americans the flag is being misrepresented, and display it for familial and heritage reasons—not forgetting that the idea of abandoning a system that has failed their expectations seems to resonate with many Americans.
“It’s apparent to me that our culture is ridden with racism. And it’s not our faults that it’s in our heads—it’s been given to us, it’s been placed there,” DeVries said. “How do we deal with it in our interactions, how do we recognize it in the Civil War.”
He believes the general understanding of Americans living in the North see slavery as the very reason for the Civil War, and that hierarchal racist attitudes will be present in today’s culture.
“It stuns me that a quarter million white people in the South would die for a worthless institution,” he said. “The importance of history is that the decision people make in the past we have to continue to live with. You can’t imagine a United States today that at one point didn’t have slavery.”
With no diagnosed mental illnesses, Dylann Roof has become the embodiment in the public mind of having “too much” white supremacy. It is important for racism to not be quietly regarded as a cured epidemic.
DeVries talked about the presence of hate, intolerance and violence in any society.
With the easy access to firearms in America, especially compared to other developed nations, in tandem with the associated attitudes of taking matters into one’s own hand, violent tragedies are part of the fabric we weaved for our post 9/11 generation.
“Cultures have normal ways of going crazy,” DeVries said, “And we have a gun culture.”
The collective attitude on racism’s relationship with white American Confederate flag bearers will ultimately decide the fate of the flag, not only in conversation, but in our education system and perhaps even law.
Professor Joe Fielder took the opportunity to share his observations that the media presented this tragedy as a case of an act of pure insanity.
“I think the truth of it is—it’s an insanity that belongs to all of us—this attitude about African Americans,” he said.
Fielder believes that there an attitude that we are focusing on differential treatment and violence on black Americans too much, and warned that this attitude is the child of slavery and Jim Crow laws which influenced so much of this county just decades ago. The symbol of this, he said, seems to be the Confederate flag, correcting himself to call it the Rebel flag.
“The reason why they have the battle flag is because they rebelled against the civil authority of the United States of America—they were rebels. If you want to be a rebel, be a rebel, but there are consequences for rebellion,” he said.
To Rankin, the flag represents only negative ideas such as racism, slavery and the Ku Klux Klan.
“You can’t be my friend if you’ve got a Ku Klux Klan flag on the back of your truck,” he said “That’s bad—that’s why we’ve got so many problems.”
During the panel, which was held in the cafeteria, middle college students filled the room for lunch.
Quartey addressed the youths with an offer for some free advice: if ever he is pulled over by police, he said he puts his hands on the dashboard.
“Yes sir officer, no sir, yes sir—I try to obey the rules and regulations at the best of my ability. If you get stopped folks, don’t talk back to the police, they are an authority figure,” he said. “Free advice, it may save your life—especially if you’re black.”
In a closing comment, Sexton said that we all need a little more tolerance and accept people for who they are. Regardless of whether an individual likes someone, we should all try to respect one other, he said.
Quartey asked the audience,
“If you know that the Confederate flag is offensive to some people then why have it. If you know calling someone a bad name is offensive, why do it,” he said. “Why provoke them?”