Where do we go from here: from symbols to solutions?
Flags, statues, monuments, school mascots and school names can all be traced to the Confederacy. Celebrating these symbols of a defeated regime, that tried in futility over 150 years ago to break away from the rest of the nation, is rather perplexing for a number of reasons.
For example, many of the people who fly the Confederate battle flag otherwise seem to be patriotic Americans. Additionally, state and local governments have placed these symbols in prominent places of celebration. And in some cases they spend public funds to maintain them.
Like so many things surrounding America's race problem, the truth is obscured when considering what these symbols really mean. Supporters consistently maintain that they are remembering their heritage and a way of life that has nothing to do with racism or slavery. However, all accurate historical accounts speak to the contrary.
Some have said that the Civil War was about states' rights, but the issue that prompted the conflict over states' rights was slavery.
In fact, Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy, said that the cornerstone of this way of life, championed by the Confederates, "rest[ed] upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man" and "that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is (the negro's) natural and normal condition."
Furthermore, William T. Thompson, the actual designer of the Confederate flag, called it emblematic "of our higher cause, the cause of a superior race." Therefore, it could not be any clearer that a right thinking society in 2015, that values equal justice for all, would wish to rid itself of all government-sponsored and sanctioned symbols of this nature.
Removing them all would certainly send the message that racism, though still prevalent, is under attack in America, and rightfully so.
But symbols are tricky, and eradicating them does not make the problem go away. In fact, removing them can make the root problem harder to address. Unfortunately, if the symbols are finally laid to rest, an unjustified sense of accomplishment will take their place. But there's another major obstacle in the road between removing symbols and reaching solutions.
I had a tree in the middle of my front yard that was overgrown, and it took away from the overall appearance of my home. Last year, a friend was kind enough to cut it down, and we promptly hauled the trunk and the branches of the tree away. Instantly, the front of my house looked much better than it had looked in several years.
But in the weeks to come, shoots from the tree began to spring up all over my front yard because everything that had been done to address my tree problem was done above the surface. And to this day, I have not found the time to grind up the tree stump or do anything to kill the tree's root system.
So consequently, I frequently find myself cutting back tree shoots that are growing at an accelerated pace, because the system below the surface remains intact, no longer responsible for providing nutrients to a tree.
In much the same way, eradicating the symbols of racism that are easily visible above the surface will likely cause it to rise up at an alarming pace in places where we have not seen it before. So, to solve the problem we must go below the surface and be truthful about where we really are, and where we are really going. And since racism is born out of ignorance and breeds hate and contempt, the only effective anecdote is truth and love.