Time for the naive to wake up to symbolism of Confederate flag

I step out of the bank and see the red low-rider truck pushing down the street. Ironic that it’€™s Charleston Boulevard.

It’€™s not the truck that turns my head, nor the deliberate, defiant adolescent roar of the down-shifting engine. What turns my head is the huge Confederate flag waving, jury-rigged to the bed of the truck.

Yes, Mr. Driver, I see you. And your editorial.

While the truck elicited nothing more from me than a wry smile and a roll of the eyes, the recent controversy over Confederate flags and especially Confederate flags flying over state capitols in the South elicited much more.

The controversy challenged me. It made me examine and re-examine. It made me wonder –€” again –€” what part of my worldview reflects wisdom, truth and goodness — and what part is naivete and/or historical ignorance.

I guess this column is a confession of sorts.

When I began to digest the news of nine murders at a historic black church in South Carolina, I confess it was at first hard for me to take Dylann Roof seriously as a white supremacist, any more than I took Mark David Chapman seriously as a Christian when he murdered John Lennon for saying "The Beatles are more popular than Jesus."€ That is, Chapman could have just as easily murdered James Taylor, whom he’€™d accosted the day before Lennon‘€™s murder at a subway station.

Roof, for me, was just another mortally damaged, soulless, sociopathic punk whose sickness is wont to fixate and react to anything and nothing. A church. A school. A mall. An ethnic group. A leaf blowing across the yard.

I‘€™m saying that crazy is disturbingly random stuff. I‘€™m reluctant to give it too much credit for ideological calculation.

Then, when we as a nation turned our heart-wrenching horror and grief toward the Confederate flag, I shifted into my clinical training in bereavement. "Here we go," I thought. Because desperately sad, frightened people often turn their collective grief, fear and guilt to some symbolic action they see as redemptive. Sometimes this action is well-reasoned and meaningful. Sometimes it‘s just reactive and a bit willy-nilly.

Like, when we tore down the statue of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno to excise our guilt for generations of denying childhood sexual abuse. See, I still stew over stuff like that.

On the other hand …

If I step out to my driveway this morning, and see that my neighbor is flying a swastika, I‘€™ll be morally offended beyond words to describe. I‘€™m not sure what I’€™d do, except that I would want to throw up.

When I was 10 years old, a fifth-grader in Peoria, Ariz., our textbooks had book covers made of brown butcher paper. All the students would personalize those covers with words, designs and random drawings.

I drew swastikas on mine. Lots of them. No one said a word.

I was innocent. Devoid of calculation or intent, beyond the fact that I’€™d seen the design somewhere before and I thought it was cool to draw. I dug the symmetry.

If there was a Jewish classmate on that campus (and I assume there must have been), I didn‘t know it. I didn‘€™t know the word anti-Semitic or the meaning. I knew about World War II, but nothing about the Holocaust. I find it strange that I was a sophomore in undergraduate college (19!) before I first saw a film of a bulldozer pushing papier-mache corpses into trenches. Before I first was educated about Hitler‘€™s Final Solution.

So, I‘ve been cracking the history books lately. I have recalled some things, and learned others for the first time.

Like, how quickly, understandably (but not innocently) our nation moved to "retell" the story of the Civil War as a regrettable, brother-against-brother tragedy. A disagreement about states’€™ rights versus federal rights. And, in the retelling, the moral evil of slavery was reforged into the moral evil of racism.

That is, slavery was outlawed, but the underlying moral premise was left unattended to haunt our collective conscious and behavior to this day.

That Robert E. Lee did not want the Confederate flag flown at his funeral, and that he discouraged the building of monuments to Southern soldiers because he thought it would be divisive.

That the Confederate flag was first raised again in 1961 in reaction to the dismantling of Jim Crow Laws. Surely that can‘€™t be Southern pride.

The more I read, the harder it became to distinguish between the Confederate flag as standing for regional pride or injured pride, the latter being a real problem.

Yeah. Let‘€™s take it down. While surely some Southerners have flown that flag as innocently as a 10-year-old drawing swastikas, the time for stubborn innocence and willful naivete is just as surely over.

Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of "Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing" (Stephens Press). His column appears on Mondays. Contact him at 702-227-4165 or skalas@reviewjournal.com.

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