Confederate flags are a part of daily life for southerners, regardless of their race. The flags are found on our shirts, trucks, belt buckles, state-issued license plates, and more. South Carolina still flies both its state flag and the American flag at the capitol building in Columbia. Several southern states like Mississippi have state flags based on the Confederate flag. Popular bands such as Lynyrd Skynyrd fly the flag on stage, and popular TV shows like “The Dukes of Hazzard” help bring the flag to the entire country’s attention.
But why do we identify with this flag?
It is, in fact, a flag used by the losing side of the American Civil War. It is a flag used by a small percentage of people in certain hate groups. In spite of these unfortunate usages, what is the motive for the majority of people who proudly display it?
I cannot give a definite answer to this, but I am sure that it is something that social scientists have tried to answer. I put it up because the flag itself is the largest reminder of my home, something that helps me when I’m in a place where I’m not really understood or accepted. My guess for why others, such as members of ‘The Sons of Confederate Veterans,’ use the flag is that it is out of respect for our fallen ancestors. My background in psychology makes me also think that perhaps many display it because the idea of themselves and their ancestors being associated with rebellion is subconsciously attractive. Regardless of the reason why anyone displays it, I can say with my hand to God that although I was raised in a place where I saw that flag multiple times daily, I have never personally met a southerner who displayed it out of hate. I feel that most southerners can say the same. Most who fly the flag do so out of heritage and pride rather than hate.
I offer my deepest apologies to all I have offended. I do not know what your experiences with the flag are, but if you have had negative experiences associated with the flag, I can only imagine how it makes you feel. If you do not like the flag based on anything other than personal experience, I hope that maybe a view from someone with some experience with the flag helps you see how the majority of proud Confederate flag flyers see it. I did not put it up with the intention of offending people, but I am not going to keep it up when I am now knowingly offending people. I also hope that we can all realize that my taking my flag down does not kill the Confederate flag nor hide anything. Even in light of the fact that I am choosing to not display it any longer, the larger issue still stands: Does the University have the right to make me take the flag down?
I feel that I could argue that I can put up anything on my window because it is, after all, my window of the room I am renting from the University. The overwhelming student support I have received from both this campus and others makes me feel that I should pursue this entire issue on a level above the University itself. It is hard for me to think that if I attended any of the other institutions I was accepted into, all of which are in the south, that this would not have even been an issue due to the general acceptance of the flag in our southern culture — a culture that the northern U.S., including many at UR, can easily make assumptions about but generally does not seem to be interested in actually learning about.
It saddens me that Dean of the College Richard Feldman and Dean of Students Matt Burns did not tell the truth in the e-mail they sent to the student body. They said that “the flag itself was taken down after a brief and civil discussion among some of the students involved,” which is false. I was not involved in any discussion other than with my GHA before the flag was taken down, and that could hardly be called a discussion. I had to take it down or my GHA would have likely pursued disciplinary action against me. It was only after the flag came down that I was immersed into discussion on Facebook. This is why I think that this is a big issue, not because of the flag itself, but because University administrators seems to be choosing whose rights it wishes to uphold.
Matthew Papay is a member of
the class of 2016.