[Guest Post by Rachel Bell]
The “battle” over the Confederate flag will not get off of my Facebook.
I just checked my news feed only to find an article about how NASCAR fans proudly displayed their Confederate flags at a race today even after being encouraged not to do so. In light of this particular Facebook fight, I feel a strong desire to share my thoughts.
The Confederate flag reminds me of the “R word.”
In recent years, parents of children with special needs have started a movement to “spread the word to end the word.” The word they are talking about is the word, “retarded,” and the reason those parents want to “end the word” is because it is degrading and offensive to their children, no matter its context.
About a year ago, I wrote a Facebook post about the “R word.” I wrote that I had used the word frequently growing up and that I never meant anything by it. I never used the word to describe a person (unless I was joking) and I would never have wanted to hurt or offend a child with special needs or anyone that loved them. I also wrote that more recently, I read the blog post of a mother of a child with special needs. After reading her post, I understood why the word was offensive and I stopped using it immediately and encouraged others to do the same.
Similarly, growing up as a white girl in the South, I was aware that the Confederate flag existed. I knew of its historical context and I knew people used it to symbolize everything from Southern pride to white pride, but I didn’t pay much attention to it. It didn’t bother me and I didn’t really notice when I saw one displayed.
Then, in 2010, I fell in love with a baby boy with brown skin and in 2011, I got the undeserved privilege of becoming his mommy and my whole world changed. I saw, heard and understood things that I had never noticed, paid attention to, or understood before. I am still a white girl and I will never know or claim to know what it is like to be black, but as a momma, my heart now walks around inside of two adorable little black bodies and I see everything differently.
I am ashamed of what I never noticed.
I am ashamed of things I thought or said or did, even in innocence and ignorance, and I am so different now. I am different for my babies, but mostly I am different because of my babies and I want to help others see what I didn’t see before.
The Confederate flag may be a part of our nation’s history but it has always been raised at the saddest of times. It was first raised when we were so divided (mostly over whether or not we could own human beings and treat them worse than animals) that we killed our own people and destroyed each other’s homes and land. And it has been raised again and again since that time as a symbol of hatred.
My husband, Evan, and I watched “Selma” a few nights ago, after this whole flag controversy started. We didn’t watch it because of the controversy. We just watched it because we have wanted to see it for months and we finally got around to it. It’s a great movie but it’s also hard to watch because it accurately portrays so much hate and a time in our country that most people wish had never happened.
But you know what I noticed in that movie? I noticed that when the brave activists (who were law-abiding American citizens who simply wanted the right to vote) walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on their peaceful march from Selma to Montgomery, they weren’t just greeted by clubs, tear gas and other weapons, they were greeted by the Confederate flag. And then earlier today, when this post was swirling around in my head, I did a Google image search of the Ku Klux Klan and you know what I saw? Lots of those scary white costumes that everyone recognizes and the Confederate flag.
So maybe it’s a symbol of Southern pride to you.
Maybe you’re a teenager and it makes you feel cool and rebellious to have it on a bumper sticker.
Maybe the reason you fly that flag or wear it on your t-shirt or paste it on your truck is innocent and ignorant.
Maybe it’s a free country and you have every right to do so.
Maybe the reason you use the “r word” is out of habit. Maybe you think it’s funny or it’s just a synonym for ridiculous or you only use it in a self-deprecating way. Maybe the reason you throw that word around like every other word is innocent and ignorant. Maybe it’s a free country and you have every right to do so.
But maybe when I pull up to a gas station in the middle of nowhere on a road trip and I see a truck covered in Confederate flags, I wonder if my interracial family is safe to stop there for a potty break or a snack. And maybe when my friends who have children with special needs pull up to a park and hear the “r word” coming from the playground, they wonder if their family is safe to get out and play there. Maybe you don’t mean anything by your Confederate flag. Maybe you don’t mean anything by the “r word.”
Maybe it’s a free country and you have every right to fly whatever flag and say whatever word you want. But if it is hurtful or offensive or degrading or scary to someone else in your free country … why would you want to?
Rachel Bell lives with her husband and two adorable kids in Arkansas.