The Flag Is Not the Problem | Teen Ink

The Flag Is Not the Problem

June 24, 2015
By MeriElena GOLD, Kernersville, North Carolina
MeriElena GOLD, Kernersville, North Carolina
16 articles 9 photos 2 comments

In light of the recent shooting in a Charleston, South Carolina house of worship, a lot of people have rallied to support the community—and a lot of people have rallied to remove the Confederate flag from public view.  The historic flag, laden with symbolism, was apparently a favorite of the shooter.  That flag has been associated with war, slavery, and white supremacism since before my grandparents were born.  It’s being treated as the American equivalent of the Nazi Swastika.  Both are grave, heavy symbols, and symbols are powerful things.  The reaction in the U.S. has been drastic and rapid.  Companies have pulled Confederate flag products and government buildings throughout the South are being pressured to take down their flags.  Protests have been staged, petitions signed.  Some consider this a definitive action that could presage a wider push for change.  I’m sorry, but I can’t view these proceedings with that kind of optimism.  To me, it just looks like a classic case of barking up the wrong tree.

It was happening before the flag fight.  Colleges and universities have started renaming buildings.  Municipalities have been rechristening streets.  The removal of monuments has been suggested.  The idea is to take away anything that looks like glorification of people who did something of which we, with our modern sensibilities, would not approve.  If that’s the way we want to do it, we might as well name everything after trees and make statues of teakettles, because no one has a slate clean enough for such standards.  We have to accept history as it is, not as we would like it to be.  The man who gave the funds for your library might have been a slave-owner.  You can’t fix that now.  But is the solution really to spend thousands of dollars changing the name on the front of the building?  Dollars that could have been used for education instead?  Perhaps education to help future generations prevent the mistakes of the past?  Those who erase their history are doomed to repeat it.

The flag goes beyond issues of history education, however.  The obsession with Confederate flags is a distraction from the greater problems of here and now.  The shooter would still have formed the same opinions even if he never saw a Confederate flag.  A symbol is just an object. People have to give them meaning.  If hatred loses the benefit of one symbol, it will find another.  Vilifying the Swastika has not stopped genocide, and taking down Confederate flags will not stop racism or the violence that comes with it.

I suppose the belief is that defeating a symbol makes a statement that something will not be tolerated.  It’s like burning in effigy, but for ideas instead of people.  I don’t think it’s going to work like that, though.  Here is what I think will happen: scores of people will band together to have Confederate flags taken down.  When they win, which I expect they will, then they will cease to care.  “Okay, we won.  Let’s go home.”  Nothing will have changed, not really.  But the uniting, galvanizing energy that this tragedy has generated will have spent.  Walmart has taken Confederate flag banners off the shelves, but the guns are still right where they were.  National attention will shift to something else.  We will be right back where we started, having learned nothing.  And the next time a massacre like this takes place, the cycle will repeat.  How many school shootings have there been?  What have we done about it?  We sent thousands of stuffed animals to Sandy Hook.  How helpful!  That will definitely prevent more children from dying in pain and fear.  Now we’re doing it again, with flags instead of teddy bears.  Because black lives matter.

I would like to think we really believe that.  What I actually think is that our culture has driven us to become so self-centered and withdrawn that pretty much all lives have ceased to matter.  We just don’t care anymore.  It’s easy to pretend we do by beating symbols to death.  Real change takes more than that, however, and we just aren’t willing to work for it.

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This article has 1 comment.

on Sep. 18 2015 at 3:57 pm
MicahMorrison GOLD, Washington, DC, District Of Columbia
17 articles 0 photos 22 comments

Favorite Quote:
"It's not too late, it's never too late" -Three Days Grace

I love this article. Great job!!!