23 June 2015

You can be outraged over the shooting, but your flag drama is meh

Reactive politics is easy. It's very popular now to call for the removal of the Confederate flag from flying over South Carolina's state house. Why wouldn't it be? It came in reaction to the terrible church shooting last week. But the Confederate flag is no more or lessoffensive now than it was last week, depending upon your point of view. The shooting doesn't somehow make it worse; unless you're willing to admit that you were OK with the flag last week.

If you didn't really spend any time prior to this week really caring about whether the Confederate flag flew over South Carolina's state house, then you're a participant in reactive politics. Great job standing up now. What about last week, last month, or last year (or before)?

Mississippi fans in stands with Confederate flags during a sporting event in 1993.Photo by Patrick Murphy-Racey/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images
Reactive politics takes no courage. It's the mob mentality. This doesn't mean the act itself is worthless. If you want to get rid of the Confederate flag over South Carolina, go for it (although I hope you agree that legislators in South Carolina should make that decision). But don't delude yourself as if you're doing something brave by standing up against the flag.  Courage means perseverance despite difficulty and pain. Chances are you're not putting yourself in any danger by opposing the Confederate flag, especially from the confines of your desk chair.

Much the same is this Internet rant about a man and his neighbor's Confederate flag. He starts off:
While I was out jogging this morning, I passed a neighbor’s house that I have passed every day for almost three years. Usually I stroll right on by without giving it a second thought. Today, though… today was different. I stopped in my tracks and blankly stared until a car honked at me to move out of the way....This house flies a Confederate flag.
Of course. A man who claims to study culture admits that the flag didn't matter to him last week or any other time during the last three years. But it matters now. Reactive politics. How easy to rant. But really, this paragraph captures it for me:
And what about my neighbor? In a perfect world, I would ring his doorbell and have a reasonable discussion with him about how what he’s doing is offensive and ahistoric and I’d love to correct his understanding of the entire mess. But the sad fact is, he’s not alone, either.
So instead of trying to make the world a better place and engaging his neighbor in conversation, he turns to the Internet and calls the man (and presumably anyone else who flies the flag) a racist and a traitor. How courageous, friend! Great job standing up for...what? And way to go on wanting to "correct his understanding of the entire mess." As if the flag has only one exact, factual, historic meaning that he needs explained to him. And you're the one to do it! How convenient. How pompous. And the idea that you can label another man without actually talking to him about his views (when you admit that talking to him is the right thing to do) is not only weak, but it's anathema to constructive dialog.

I know what you might be thinking. Even though you might not have voiced your opinion on the Confederate flag before, you've always thought it was offensive. And the shooting gave you reason to voice your opinion. Fine, I have no problem with that. Whether you want to oppose the Confederate flag now is not my issue. I take aim at those who attach some magical self-importance to their view now that's newsworthy and convenient, as if they're doing something bold. Sorry, you're just not.

Bold are those who stand up for causes when they're not newsworthy or convenient. When it wasn't the outrage of the week. When it was a proactive position, not a reactive one.

By the way, have you ever read the words to Maryland's official state song? You wouldn't be the first one to raise an eyebrow at that one.

What will next week's faux outrage be?

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