Recently, I came across this Facebook exchange. It features a man, Rocky Glass, who’s pissed because someone burned down the Confederate flag attached to his pickup truck, damaging the truck in the process. He posted the news/picture on his Facebook page, and his friends quickly got on the bandwagon, threatening to get their guns and watch out for the perpetrators. They also began spewing hate and racism, saying things like, “Boy they sure are making it easy to hate an entire race. Even though the thought wasn’t there before,” “It all trickles down from the head pieces of shit, Obama and Sharpton,” “Fly one of these next time [picture of Nazi flag],” and “We bouta lynch someone.” And if you look up their names (all except the original poster’s, oddly enough), you can confirm that these are all real people. This was neither a joke nor a Photoshop.
While I don’t agree with vandalizing people’s property or burning someone else’s property because you don’t agree with it ideologically (which is a really painful concession to make in this case), that does not excuse racism, hate crimes, or threatening/perpetrating murder. I can’t believe I have to say that. The proper response to vandalism is not blaming an entire race and then reviving the racist rhetoric of decades past. We should also remember that it’s not just African-Americans that think the Confederate flag is racist and should be treated as a symbol for hate crimes. Just yesterday, I was discussing with some friends how hateful and ignorant the people that fly those flags from their vehicles must be – and all four of us involved in the conversation were white. In fact, I would probably argue that it’s more likely that a white person committed the vandalism. We don’t have to live with the fear of being harmed because of our race and often don’t think about the consequences of our actions, especially when those consequences can be race-related.
Exchanges like these demonstrate that the Confederate flag goes hand-in-hand with anti-black racism. I can understand getting upset because someone damaged your vehicle – trucks are expensive and cosmetic repairs are doubly so. I can understand getting upset because you think someone is shitting on your heritage (not that you should be proud of racism and the Confederacy but if you are, fine, whatever). I can even understand threatening to sit out with a gun to shoot anyone else that tries to vandalize your property. We’ve all heard someone threaten that because neighbor kids knocked down a mailbox or an angry ex scratched your car or a rival football team burnt their symbol into your field; that doesn’t mean it should be acceptable, but we can argue that it’s just a figure of speech. Fine. But why does the incident have to be about race? Especially if you are claiming that the Confederate flag has nothing to do with race? Shouldn’t you be blaming uppity liberals or progressive trying to take away your guns or Obama and Hilary Clinton or welfare queens or whatever group of people you feel are marginalizing and controlling you? Clearly, since you immediately jumped to race, you feel that the Confederate flag is about race. You understand that it is a stand against black people. That it is an affront against black people. And you simply don’t care.
This sort of behavior and hate speech needs to be tracked and categorized. I hope that the residents of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania start doing so, especially since residents have noticed a surge in Confederate flags, hate speech, and street harassment against black people. I do not hope for an injury or murder of a black person, but I do hope that the dissemination of these people’s hateful and racist words will find their way into the community and to the authorities and they will, at the very least, receive warnings. I hope that community centers, churches, and schools will take these incidents seriously and begin opening up a community dialogue about race relations and tension, the Confederate flag, and the proper response to vandalism. I hope that someone will stand on the side of black people and take their concerns seriously because right now we’re not and that’s why more and more of them are being hurt, injured, and killed. We, American society and white society, need to start believing black society and taking their concerns seriously. It’s about damn time.