As a Charleston, South Carolina-based conservative radio personality known as the “Southern Avenger,” I spent a decade defending the Confederate flag that is yet again the center of so much controversy.
I said the flag was about states’ rights. I said it stood for self-determination. I said it honored heritage.
I argued the Confederate flag wasn’t about race. I believed it. Millions of well-meaning Southerners believe it too.
I was wrong. That flag is always about race. Whatever political or historical points the flag’s defenders make, there will never be a time—and never has been a time—in which millions of Americans have looked at that symbol and not seen hatred.
We can argue for the rest of time whether this is fair or not. And for the rest of time, that symbol will still be seen in an overwhelmingly negative light.
Those who see hatred have political and historical reasons too.
This has always been the Confederate flag debate game. One camp’s arguments are supposed to trump the other’s.
I’m not here to settle those arguments. I tired of them years ago.
But I am here to say there is something at stake far more important than this symbol.
Heritage might not be hate. But battling hate is far more important than anyone’s heritage, politics, or just about anything else. We should have different priorities.
I now have different priorities.
Dylann Roof is a reminder of what’s at stake.
The week before a white supremacist murdered nine black men and women in my hometown of Charleston, I was angry at my fellow conservatives.
A 14-year-old black girl attending a pool party in McKinney, Texas, had been manhandled and thrown to the ground by a police officer. The girl had done nothing except talk. She was just standing there with other teenagers.
It was revolting to watch. I asked others to imagine it was their daughter.
The overwhelming response was that she was a “thug” who was “no saint” and needed to be taught “respect.” The comments were as revolting as the act—an adult mob praising the assault of a 100-pound, half-naked and scared black kid. Ipleaded again for people to stop defending this. It got uglier.
It bothered me greatly, probably because at one time I might have done the same thing.
In my role as a conservative radio personality, I would’ve likely joined in in calling a group of excited black teenagers, or protesters, “thugs.” I might have called illegal immigrants criminals or worse. Muslims would’ve been slandered asterrorists.
Ugliness was a stock-in-trade.
I thought a big part of being conservative meant picking a “side” and attacking the other. I thought not caring what others thought or felt was part of it. Some of my Confederate flag debates certainly reflected that mentality.
This is something ideologues do and is by no means exclusive to the right, as evidenced by the way some liberals cartoonishly portray conservatives, Christians, and, yes, Southerners.
Ideologues ridicule and dehumanize people at the expense of their personhood. Ideologues believe some groups must be attacked, and although the groups are comprised of flesh-and-blood human beings, it’s better not to think of them as people too much—it could get you off message.
It’s crude collectivist thinking. It’s an intentional lack of sympathy. It’s dehumanization. It’s at the heart of everything that’s wrong with our politics and culture.
In its most extreme form, it’s what’s wrong with Dylann Roof.
Between the reports of his racist words and manifesto, we know Roof had a mission: to murder black people. Entering the Emmanuel A.M.E. Church Wednesday and sitting with the group for an hour, Roof confessed that he “almost didn’t go through with it because everyone was so nice to him.”
But instead he chose to “go through with his mission.” He had to shrug off their kindness. These weren’t people. They were just “blacks.” They were on the wrong side.
Roof’s hateful tunnel vision led him to commit pure evil.
What is the polar opposite of such hatred? The forgiveness demonstrated by Roof’s victim’s families. Said the daughter of Ethel Lance, “I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you.”
“And have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people but God forgives you, and I forgive you.”
This is humanity. It is a rejection of collectivist thinking. It is the epitome of sympathy. It’s grace. It’s love.
My attraction to libertarianism a number of years ago began a journey of rejecting groupthink and placing primacy on the individual. Once you start down the path of putting individual human beings above whatever group they belong to, it puts politics—and everything else—in a new light.
Putting people before an agenda or broad prejudices puts us all in a much better place. It can, and should, make us repentant of our past behavior. It did for me.
A 14-year-old girl at a pool party isn’t a “thug” who deserves abuse. She’s a child. Decent people should view her as such.
We can be more decent….more…