Part 3: The Confederate Flag

What was going to be a 3 part series, has turned into 4.

Really, this post is the whole reason for the series. It is why I began assessing and processing through writing my own history and interactions with the Confederate flag. And how I hope to approach it in the future.

Im a part of a mom's group online. Quite a few actually! They are a treasure trove of information. This particular mom's group was/is a life saver for a girl brand new to this city with a tiny baby in her arms. These moms know EVERYTHING about everywhere to go for fun, cheap joy with a baby and they have helped me immensely get to know my way around the town.

Wait wait Wait..... I mean everywhere on this side of town.
West of Route 52.
That's the white/nonwhite dividing line in Winston Salem.
So, to be clear- it's a predominately white and leaning-towards-economically-privileged group of moms, which is fine as long as you go in understanding that is the demographic of this particular online moms group.
Anyone can join this group (pending admin approval for safety), and there are a few women of color...but for the most part it is moms from a certain geographical area and they mostly happen to be white. That makes sense because we know that "Americans' core social networks tend to be dominated by people of the same race or ethnic background. However, the degree of racial and ethnic diversity in American's social networks varies somewhat according to their particular race or ethnicity. Among white Americans, 91% of people comprising their social networks are also white, while five percent are identified as some other race."

*This is from PRRI's 2016 study on how race religion, and political affiliation affect our social networks. PRRI is a non profit, non partisan organization committed to conducting independent research at the intersections of religion, culture and public policy and I like them a lot. Click HERE to read that study. There is tons of other research and info on how we socialize and exist inside of mostly culturally homogenous networks and groups as Americans, esp if we are white. Hit me up if you want countless more resources to read and learn about this. 

ANYWAY, So I often turn to this group for questions about navigating the city. 

And we have already established for the record that my kid LOVES him some flags, right?

And I had been seeing a lot of talk about Memorial Day parades here around Winston-Salem and I figured it would be like THE GREATEST THING EVER for MJ because all the flags. 

But, I was worried about the potential for confederate flag and confederacy celebration being a thing at the parade. I wasn't sure if this was something to consider, so I turned to the moms group to ask what to expect at these parades and letting them know full out that we are an interracial family who is offended by the confederate flag. I said I wouldn't want to attend if we would have to sit through confederate celebrations or floats or whatever. More on the result of that post in the next blog/Part 4, but to sum up there was much clashing of viewpoints. As tempers flared and passions won out over kindness and respect and correct historical facts, I deleted the post. 
However, I learned many things. 
Many. Things. 

One of the things I learned was that the largest Memorial Day parade in the south is located in Thomasville, North Carolina. We were told to only expect one little measly small float/car for the Sons of the Confederate organization and that was it. So I excitedly told my husband we should go and do fun things and see more stuff and yay! Fun! 

I thought Thomasville was like 15 minutes away, NOPE. It turned out to be like 45 minutes away and as we drove down a long, winding, wooded, rural two lane highway and I stared nervously at the phone map my husband said, "So..... we are heading where again? To the country? For a parade? In North Carolina?" We have a bit of apprehension about heading into rural-ish areas in our state for obvious issues of racial intolerance and the potential for ignorance. We are still very new here and are honest about our lack of cultural intelligence in reference to much of southern white culture - so we want to be wise and careful until we know better or have friends to walk with us through that. 

We found the town and parked near the end of the parade route. It wasn't packed all along the street here, so we got to sit right at the curb in a mostly shaded area as the parade began to go by. We were at ease because there was a large African American family directly across the street from us set up in chairs under the trees and another Black family to our left. I felt better about our decision to come and breathed a sigh of relief. 

The parade was kicked off by a band from Fort Bragg and Mj was immediately bouncing to the music and pointing and exclaiming over all the flags. Another high school band followed and then came dozens of Gold Star families in cars. (Gold Star families are the families of soldiers who gave it all and didn't make it home from the battlefield. It was a needed and sobering reminder for our family that freedom isn't free, and it is costly and terrifying.) We waved to the families as they waved little flags out the windows of the cars decorated with the name of their lost loved one. We LOVED the patriot riders alongside the Gold star families. These are men on motorcycles that do lots of things for our veterans and their families, but my favorite is that they show up en masse to their funerals. They especially show up strong to those funerals that might be protested by some nutcase assembly of weirdos (Westboro Baptist Church) and hold up large American flags or big angel wings in front of the idiotic protest so the grieving families and friends can't see them. BEAUTIFUL. I want to get a motorcycle just so I can do this. Those cars and motorcycles were followed by way too many convertibles with little girls and teens wearing crowns and lots of makeup in dresses and sashes that announced them as Little miss, or junior miss, or Princess of a small town or county near there. (I don't have time or and you don't have the patience for me to process this whole tiny beauty queen travesty/debacle here so let's skip on ahead, but please a quick moment of silence for my female empowering joy that was slain on the roadside for this ten minutes of this part of the procession). 

Mike and I had been prepared for that one car. That one float we would graciously look around on this day. I could see Mike crane his neck looking around the corner every few minutes. I knew what he was anxiously looking for. 

"Here it is, " he said. "Here it comes."

It was a group of men dressed like confederate soldiers from history complete with replicas of the kinds of rifles and weapons they used. (My mom married a man that did historical re-enactment so I'm familiar with it. My friends in high school called them "crazy people with fake guns" and Im gonna assure you thats not a far off assessment.) This group of men were wearing various different old-timey soldier outfits and carried confederate flags. I did not shout out "You lost, go home" at them  as they walked past us because Jesus died for us and then He sent the Holy Spirit to live in us and He gives us self control. The struggle is real. 

But we weren't amused. The street was no longer loud and joyous with clapping and waving or hands and flags anymore. 

After the sons of the confederacy marched past us, we had to endure the sister or mothers or something female of the confederacy. It was two women, and one was wearing some big stiff looking ball gown. It was all black, jet black. I found that fitting. I also mourn slavery and the dark history of the south. I was happy her and I were sharing in that grief (probably not).

Then came a big pick up truck pulling a flat wooden trailer with confederate flags and a huge cannon on it. 

Then more cars. 
Just cars with white men driving them with confederate flags. 

Then a group of white men with no sort of sign or seeming organization they were representing....just walking with confederate flag shirts and hats on.

At this point, its quiet. 
You the parade? 

I mentioned our stretch of the street was not just White. Another interracial white and black couple had filled in next to us with their children as well. Mike was sitting silently, and honestly, he looked a bit defeated - which infuriated me and stoked the fire within me. But we were new to this, being southern transplants, so I started looking around to see what the hell we were supposed to be doing or feeling because I didn't really trust myself yet. I looked across the street in between the cars rolling past bearing that symbol of the old south and I caught glimpses of the large group of Black men and women and they were standing there watching silently, some with arms crossed. 

Silently, you the parade. 

I looked next to me and the same with the black family on our side. Silent. Just enduring. Not shrinking back, but standing firm. Their grace and restraint will preach sermons for days and should light a fire in our hearts from love for justice. 

I began to look at the Confederate supporters as they marched and rode past us. I was thinking How is this part of the parade going for them? What would you feel as a white man carrying a confederate flag past groups of black families? There wasn't an acknowledgement of the crowd as there was with the rest of the parade marchers. Like the beauty queens and the Gold star families and the bands, they were here for and with the crowd. They had reached out and made eye contact and waved and gave out candy or flags. 
But this was different.

There was no waving. The confederate supporters didn't look happy or proud even, they looked uncomfortable, yet decided. Resolute. I sat there shaking my head "No" and when I caught their eyes as they shiftily glanced side to side without mostly turning their heads I actually said "No!!!?" (yes, like a statement that was almost a question. I wanted to stand up and yell ask WHY? but I wasn't totally prepared for this)

I began to murmur. (we have previously established Im less gracious, mature, able to be long suffering and demure, etc than Mike right?) Mike side eyed me like "chill out Sarah." But having an irreverent, swear word laced commentary for this foolishness before me allowed me to not stand up and scream belligerent crap at these men. I honestly was totally bewildered. I have never had to sit as an audience for outlandish and totally obvious racism before. And to have to sit amongst my black brothers and sisters, whose ancestors were used, abused, murdered, etc by people waving these flags and this symbol, that the oppression continues unabashed, that these men were marching in a parade obviously unrepentant for the sorrow borne under that flag from people that looked like them or were their ancestors but yet not bold enough to look around at the non white spectators. 

Then, came a semi trailer all decked out in confederate finery on its license plate, grill, pipe things, etc. It had some dumb slogan on the front that Im thankful I forgot but it was close to "The south lives on." This man was waving and tooting his horn but it didn't feel joyful and celebratory. It felt taunting. He was waving a flag out his window and I saw out of the corner of my eye that my son lifted his hand to point or wave and I snapped my arm out and shoved his tiny arm back into his lap and handed him a toy to divert him- all while not breaking eye contact with the driver of this truck. Again, I said a bit louder "No!" Im not sure if it was to MJ or to the man but it made the driver laugh. He called out to MJ "Hey there buddy" and tried to get him to wave. My audible sassy response made my husband say my name sternly and with extra syllables. I understood it was warningly, like "Sarah, get your WHOLE life together right now. Do you know where we are?" 

And this was the end of the parade. Just the end. Nothing else. It fizzled out with some more random men, of course they were white, with confederate shirts and jackets and thats it. It felt anti-climatic. Like, uhhh it's over? 

We silently and angrily walked back to the car. Our car ride home was quiet until I began to verbally hatch grand plans of attending next year. "Im going back," I said, "and Im hopefully bringing many good Christian friends." 

I haven't really decided yet if Im making enormous, double sided Black Lives Matter signs, or signs with scriptures on them or even just drawing beautiful pictures on big pieces of cardboard. 
But I want to be the guard. 
Like the patriot guard who stands for the families who lost their loved ones and shields their grieving hearts from the insensitive, misinformed, ignorant malingers attempting to bring evil and pain -  I want to stand by African American families and hide the ugly white racist confederate flags of people who look like me while on the other side show the confederate supporters that their hate is not welcome by all. Or tolerated. Or silently endured.  
Because our African American brothers and sisters lost their families on the battlefield of slavery and for the labor and construction of our country and they deserve to be protected and fought for now.  Not because they are in need of my, or anyone else's, saving or protection.
But because this is my ugly, dark, lingering abusive history as a white person in America, especially here in the south and its my/our responsibility to ride out to meet it. To greet it and say, "Not today, Satan. Not on my watch. Not while I have breath to breathe and a voice to lift."

 Never again will I sit in the presence of racism and shut my mouth. 

Open your mouth, judge fairly and defend the oppressed. Proverbs 31:9

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. -MLK jr

Your silence is consent. -Plato

If I were to remain silent, I would be guilty of complicity. -Einstein

You are not responsible only for what you say, but also for that which you do not say. -MLK jr

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. -Isaiah 1:17

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. -Desmond Tutu

In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. - MLK jr

There is neither Jew or Gentile, slave nor free, you are all one in Christ. -Galatians 3:28


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