I attended college and lived in South Carolina from 1999-2002, I had preconceived notions of what it was like to live in the deep South but I was open minded enough to put those aside and to try and enjoy Southern living to the best of my ability. The average Southerner of any color is friendly, hospitable, kind and Christian. Most are conservative in their views, conservative in every way. The first kind of prejudice I experienced there wasn’t my mixed race background but the fact I was from California, and not just anywhere in California, but specifically from Los Angeles, California. Some folks I met thought Angelenos were vain, narcissistic, are all on prozac and do not know how to drive in the rain, which isn’t totally unjustified. It gave me a good chuckle. I never took special pride in being an Angeleno so I can laugh at it. People not acclimated with Los Angeles and it’s greater areas think of only Hollywood when you say Los Angeles, and that was the other thing, I had to say ‘Los Angeles’, if I said LA some presumed I meant Lower Alabama and proceeded to ask me where my accent went and whole other level of confusion ensues. They’ve no idea that ‘Hollywood’ is just a very small and privileged part of Los Angeles where people live in this bubble and parallel universe and not even people from other not so posh areas of LA can understand.
If you went to any town or city in South Carolina for a weekend visit and left, you’d think it was a lovely place and everyone was so friendly and kind and that’s true. However, if you live there for a protracted period of time, the more subtle details of Southern living come bubbling to the surface. The first thing you can’t help but notice is the prevalence of the Confederate Flag, once I started paying attention to the details, it was everywhere. someone’s belt buckle, gun holster, bumper stickers on the back of trucks, shop windows, baseball caps, bandanas, people flying them openly on their front porch on private property and last but not least, on the State Capitol building in Columbia, South Carolina. I had always believed that the Confederate flag was a symbol of a bygone era, an era which has no place in society today. The flag to me symbolized racism, oppression, treason and all around backwardness. Many Southerners argue to the contrary and believe that it was part of their heritage but it was a heritage built on hate and oppression, I believe the significance of the flag to so many Southerners today is because it symbolized a time of the old social order, whites of any social class on top, black and every other non-whites on bottom. It was a time where life was nice and comfortable for them. During the antebellum South, most white people were poor farmers known as ‘crackers’, but the idea of their racial superiority over the black slaves even if they didn’t own any made them feel better about their poverty and plight. The lone fact that they were white made them better.
I am a naturally inquisitive and curious person and I love to educate myself on subjects and matters of which I am unfamiliar with, but I found the subject of the Confederate flag so uncomfortable that I never once broached a white Southerner asked them about what it meant to them, I was afraid of not liking what I might hear. When they brought up the subject themselves, I would listen and nod politely and never ask any follow up questions.
The flag aside, I found that beneath the Southern hospitality lay a subtle nagging distrust of outsiders. Year 2000 was also the year that Bob Jones University officially dropped it’s interracial dating ban, causing a lot of hoopla in the media and even made it onto late night TV jokes. Bob Jones University was a small Christian college in the Greenville area of South Carolina. It has a strong liberal arts program but its school and rules are rooted in fundamental Christian values and they include women dressing modestly, there is a curfew for students, they do not watch TV and they are not allowed to visit the cinema and finally interracial dating isn’t allowed because of some obscure passage in the Bible about different races not mixing. Most people didn’t know that interracial dating was banned at Bob Jones University, in fact most people didn’t know this school existed, but for when former President George W. Bush went there in 2000 as one of his campaign stops and the school’s racist past was exposed.
I must stay this was the first time in my 21 years that I felt remotely conscious of my biracial background. Where I come from, Los Angeles, biracial families are many and diverse, we are celebrated, in the south, it’s a novelty. Anyone with a thinking mind knows that the Bob Jones University interracial dating ban has more to do with making sure black students and white students don’t intermarry rather than anything the Bible said. By the way, the Bible verse that refers to not intermarrying another ‘kind’ is Deuteronomy 7:3: “and when the LORD your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them. 3 Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons. 4 For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods; then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you and He will quickly destroy you.” The intermarrying banned here is marriage between a believer and non-believer, not races. The other passages that refer to not allowing one’s sons and daughters to marry ‘them’ are, Genesis 24:3, Exodus 34:15-16, Joshua 23:12, Judges 3:6, Judges 14:3, 1 Kings 11:2, Ezra 9:2, Ezra 10:3, Nehemiah 10:30, they all refer to the same idea, to not marry non-believers for they will turn your sons and daughters into worshipping their gods and turn away from the True God, nothing about race. If they must use Christianity and the Bible to back up their racist policies, at least choose the right passage.
It’s about time that South Carolina is taking down the Confederate flag on their state capitol building. There is no place for this misplaced symbolism in the modern era. We are hardly in a post racial society and won’t be there for a long time, but removing these symbols of hate is a good small first step towards a post racial society.
On the last note, the Civil War was one of the bloodiest wars ever fought on US soil. There were 1,100,000 casualties, and 620,000 deaths and an astonishing 504 deaths per day each day the war was fought. These numbers are higher than all the deaths in World War I, World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War combined. So, yes, those who perished in the Civil War, regardless of which side they fought for deserve respect and commemoration, they were doing their duty, probably against their wishes. The Confederate flag isn’t the appropriate flag to commemorate the Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War, the Stars and Stripes is the most appropriate flag, whether they knew it or not, they were fighting for their version of America.