When I was first asked to write about the topic of the confederate flag, I was thrilled. Then after some time, I started thinking, “What would I write that hasn’t already been said?”
From Rep. Jenny Horne’s impassioned and tearful speech about why the flag needs to go to the courageous act of Bree Newsome scaling the pole and taking down the flag herself, I felt the weight of a debate that has been going on for decades and written about extensively. What more would I have to contribute?
But, I have my own relationship with that flag, so that is what I know best to write about.
My great grandmother Maegetta Wright was born sometime in the 1920s in Tifton, Georgia, a small town in the south of Georgia. As a child, I visited the cotton fields where my family worked and the burial sites of my great-great-grandparents. I remember hearing stories about the Ku Klux Klan, specifically a group of hooded white men who chased my great-uncle, my great-grandmother’s oldest child and only son, right out of the United States. Traumatized and fearful as a black man in the South, my uncle left to live in Nigeria where he has been for over 35 years.
I remember those drives down to Georgia, along unlit dirt roads, terrified that at any moment a confederate flag draped on the back of a pickup truck would run us off the road. The flag terrified me every time I saw it, and more than that, the people displaying it terrified me. As I learned and studied more, developed useful language, and gained courage, I was able to approach situations with that flag not from a place of fear but necessity.
In 2003, I started high school. On Fridays students were allowed to wear hats during school hours. Every Friday, well maybe not every Friday, but it felt like every Friday to me, a classmate—a white girl from Mississippi—came into class with a confederate flag boldly displayed on her head. It irked me every time I saw it until I couldn’t stay silent anymore. I sat in Mrs. P’s English class and said out loud that she needed to stop wearing the hat. So it began.
I opened the gates to a debate on the confederate flag and its place in our classroom and in our school. I expressed the pain behind the flag and its connection to my family and history. She explained her “Southern heritage,” and I firmly maintained my stance that it was an offensive and racist symbol. I was in a community where I was supposed to thrive and learn but instead was fighting for my right to feel safe and secure in class.
After the massacre in Charleston, as images of the shooter flashed on my TV, those feelings I experienced in 2003 reappeared. His face, his mushroom cut, and the confederate flag are seared into my mind. To deal with the emotions and vent my frustrations, I did what I normally do and took to Twitter.
Can we talk about this white girl who used to wear her confederate flag hat every Friday when I was in high school #ameshooting
— Radical Educator (@bulaong_ramiz) June 18, 2015
I shared my story of being in high school and having to educate my peers on the offensiveness of the flag. Those stories of my family in the South returned to my conscious mind. Feelings of fear and vulnerability were renewed as I drove through my seemingly liberal New England town to, once again, see those dreaded pickup trucks with confederate flag stickers proudly displayed.
All I wanted to do was leave copies of this article by Rev. Emily C. Heath on their windshield and run away.
I could share history and current relevance, or lack thereof, of the confederate flag but I think the biggest message I want people to walk away with is one of understanding and compassion. That even without an intricate understanding of US History, the Civil War, and the confederate flag, we can listen to the voices of people who have been historically and are presently abused, taunted, hurt by those who carry around this symbol of hate. We can hold up our fellow citizens’ pain and do all we can to bring awareness and eradicate centuries of mistreatment.
Lastly, I’d like to point out that the confederacy seceded from the United States of America. To fly that flag is one of the most un-American things you can do (in my opinion). We must take down the flag. We must continue to move forward. We must be on the right side of history.