To the Person Whose Car, Despite the Several Confederate Flags Which It Bore, I Chose Not to Key
When I say that I chose not to key your car, what I mean is that I chose not to key your car. I walk past dozens of cars every day, and I drive past hundreds. I had never before walked past a car with my keys in my hand, thinking to myself, “Should I cause bodily harm to this vehicle?” Vandalism of personal property is not my thing. I don’t like thinking that. I wish you had not incited me to wicked thoughts.
You had five Confederate flags on your car: two were actual flags, like the kind that flutter in the wind one minute, and then all of a sudden, they’re lying there in front of a stone wall and a clump of trees in Pennsylvania. The other three were bumper stickers.
Only one of those bumper stickers was in a condition like your car; ditto the Confederate flags. This leads me to believe that not only are you the kind of person who puts Confederate flags on their car – the kind of person that is we’ll talk about in a sec – but you are also the kind of contrarian troglodyte who revels in the thought of giving people the finger just for the sake of so doing.
Speaking of giving people the finger, someone drove by me not five minutes after I saw you for the first time. He was driving a old, white, and dirty pickup truck, which I presume was working off of the “People tend to look their dogs” trope. The truck flew a big ol’ Confederate flag. I gave him the finger.
The difference between my kind of bird-flipping and your kind of bird-flipping is that my kind of bird-flipping is not done to be overtly racist.
There was also a sticker on the side of your car with an American flag on it. For all of your supposed boldness, you are lukewarm. One one side of your car you wave the flag of armed insurrection against a sovereign government. On the other you place the flag of that sovereign government. Are you a revolutionary? Will your South rise? Or are you the coward who hedges a bet, scurrying and weaseling under the protection of the civil liberties that the Stars and Stripes wreath you in? Perhaps you are the fool illiterate in reading texts, even ones so relatively simple as bumper stickers. Our eyes are on all your ways; they are not hidden from us, nor is your sin concealed from our eyes.
The Confederate battle flag is about tradition. And it is about heritage. I can hear you from here. This is the one thing I agree with you about. It is one hundred percent about a certain type of tradition: it’s a tradition of hate. Of racism. Of the Last Rhodesian who assassinated a public official and eight of his comrades. Of the broadcasters who call any black athlete with an opinion “ignorant” or “dumb” or “freakishly athletic.” Of news outlets that think that a devoted and heartbroken protest in Missouri is the prelude to unimaginable black violence instead of the outcry against unconscionable. Of white flight and quiet gentrification. Of the killing of Martin Luther King. Of the skepticism that still surrounds the work of Malcolm X. Of the police officers who brutally attacked civilians who sat and marched and talked for civil rights, denying them First Amendment rights, their personal liberties, and sometimes taking lives that weren’t theirs to take. Of state governors who needed armed troops to come into their capitals before they would integrate their schools. Of Plessy v. Ferguson, and Dred Scott too. Of strange fruit which grew up overnight by the green thumbs of rednecks and sheriffs alike. Of a gang of terrorists that reign(ed?) like an American Taliban over the Southeast and even the Midwest. Of a war that Abraham Lincoln believed was God’s just punishment of a nation that would preserve slavery for hundreds of years. Of the slaveholders who counted their money instead of their sins, and of those who would not hold slaves but could not see humanity in African-Americans. Of the presidents who held slaves, and raped them. Of a general legacy of degradation, hatred, belittling, lies, kidnapping, rape, murder, and genocide, where the white people have sinned and the black people have endured.
The Confederate flag is a powerful symbol. It must be, or otherwise it would have, for its wickedness, torn itself in half like the curtain in the temple.
I’ve denounced the Confederate flag in my classroom before. It’s not like it took Dylann Roof to make me realize that there was something evil about the flag and the people who fly it: I’ve known that a while, and I was glad to be able to teach children that it symbolizes a national evil. But I was comfortable with the flag’s existence. If I’d have seen you six months ago – seen your car six months ago – I would have thought to myself, “Well, there’s someone I don’t want to hang out with,” and continued on inside. It would have been a tacit form of acceptance. I was wrong to only push it away, rather than to burn it down.
I hope you will find a way to atone. Atonement is one of the last holy acts that I think we are capable of, and there is a great deal of atonement left for people like me to do. Don’t place your sins on my head. I refuse to wear your cobwebs for clothing, or to walk your crooked roads which are paths without justice, because I am trying to learn to call evil by its name and goodness likewise.