That Time when I Really Wanted to Punch Three Grown Men
I’m sure by now, all readers of this blog, have heard about and formed an opinion about the confederate flag controversy. Since the racially-motivated shooting at the Emmanuel AME Church of Charleston on June 17th, many have begun to ponder the true meaning of the confederate flag, what behaviors it may encourage, and if it may or may not be a form of hate speech to display said flag. This discussion was started after the media caught hold of the fact that the South Carolina State House was still flying the flag, which many see as a symbol of racism and the southern history of slavery.
Growing up in New England, the confederate flag was not a common sight for me. When seen it was tied to deeply rooted stereotypes. I had been taught that when a person showed off the confederate flag I was to assume they were neo-nazi, racist, white trash, biggots. Confederate flag bearers were people to be both avoided and feared. Coming to Gettysburg, a place where the flag has a special place in this town’s history, my northern eyes have seen more confederate flags than ever before. It has been interesting to see the response to this controversy in a place where we should remember the past, but people are finally being pushed to move into a more equal and loving future. Some gift stores have responded by ceasing sales of merchandise with only the confederate flag on it, others have replaced the typically known Confederate Battle flag with the National Confederate flag, one that still holds history without as much blatant symbolism and controversy. One restaurant in town, however, has refused to stop selling burgers topped with a confederate flag, claiming that those who don’t support their decision can eat elsewhere. That is one suggestion I will be following, and I will never patronize their establishment again.
The issue hadn’t really come to head for me, however, until this past Wednesday. I was working at the Adams County Farmers Market, a program that does so much to help eliminate food gaps in the community, when I looked across the street to see three grown men standing along the sidewalk waving confederate flags. Two were dressed in period garb, the other in plain street clothes. My first gut reaction was to go up to them and punch them. Really hard. To express my anger over the existence of racism and my perception of their ignorance as to what that flag really stands for. Out of fear of my safety and the law, I did not go through with that plan. I did however sit and fight off tears, wondering how such hatred and misunderstanding could still exist in our society. I knew I had to do something, so I went with another volunteer at the farmer’s market to talk to someone working at the inn at which they were outside of. I’m not sure if our alerting them of what was occurring on their property made any difference, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I hadn’t done something to try and put an end to their display.
I left with a knot in my stomach over the entire situation and controversy. I’m still not sure how we can reconcile what is considered free speech and what toes the line of hate speech. I also have been struggling with how to love people who act in such a way, because my hatred of them will not help to move us towards a more loving and peaceful society. The fact that this discussion has mainly been between white people, white people saying that the flag is offensive to those of color, and white people saying that the flag stands for something else entirely, is concerning to me. I think white people need to step out of the spotlight in this conversation, and allow those who may or may not feel persecuted by this flag to have a say in whether or not its display should be legal in our country.
Alyce Norcross ’17
Cover photo credit: Twitter User @Niall_JayDub