When I saw it my stomach dropped cold, heavy and low. Fluttering proudly in the wind against the backdrop of red, white and blue another flag drove out in front of the lawn we were sitting on. A confederate flag flew from the top of a car driving through downtown Nashville and we all stared.
Tears blurred my vision, and anger invaded my thoughts. Before I moved to the south I could count the number of times I’d seen a confederate flag on one hand, and when they did show up on a bumper sticker, the odd gas station, me and my friends would shake our heads, roll our eyes, as if to say “Can you believe this loser?” I’m ashamed to say then we’d move on. Because we’re white and we could just walk away.
When I moved to the south things were different. The confederate flag flies proudly and (still) unchallenged. Although it alarmed and disgusted me, I didn’t really know how to respond. Was I even meant to respond? I still compartmentalized it as freakish behavior, a stupid cultural southern thing that didn’t affect me, something I couldn’t do anything about.
But in these last few weeks nine people were shot and murdered because they were black, and seven African-American churches have been burned down. Here, on the Fourth of July in Nashville, people drive around flying the confederate flag. As a white American I feel like I'm getting a wake up call I can't ignore. We can no longer pretend racism doesn’t exist.
Suddenly, as I sat there, a black family carrying coolers and arm chairs walked on the sidewalk past the car, past the flag. I choked back tears of fury and deep discouragement. I want to know what they were thinking. Did they notice it? Were they even phased by it, or had they learn to block it out? Were they afraid for their safety? Did they feel the need to pull their children in closer to their sides? I don’t know what it feels like to have to face a symbol of hate on a regular basis. But they do.
Is this the nation we’re celebrating today? This can’t be what freedom means! I thought and started to walk over to the car. I couldn’t just sit and let that flag flutter in the wind without a conversation. But as I walked over, the car started driving away so instead I took this picture.
I took it with the intention of blasting the owner on social media, I wanted to shame them publicly, to make a spectacle of their hatred. But as my fingers started typing I realized something
…if I let their hatred breed more hate, then the haters have won the war.
I stopped typing, discouraged, unsure of what to do. In America we take pride in the freedom we’ve fought for, the freedom to believe what we want to believe, the freedom of speech, the freedom to be the people we want to be. This includes the freedom to be haters.
What I want is for the confederate flag to be illegal.
What I want is for people like that to be publicly shamed.
What I want is rip that flag down.
What I wanted was to scream and just cry and cry.
What I want is for the black families walking on that street to never have to see that flag again.
What I want so deeply is for love to abound, for hate to be illegal. For my black brothers and sisters to be able to celebrate their freedom in a nation that views them as equally important and beautiful members of society.
It’s hard to know if laws like making the confederate flag illegal would make any change in people’s hearts. My guess is not. My guess is that the haters will still hate unless something else more radical occurs.
I don’t want to let their hatred take a hold of my heart. If I allow that to happen, I’m not any better than they are. It’s good to be angry and saddened by their actions. I will never condone it, I will never think it’s okay. I will always think it’s despicable. But I will not hate that girl driving that car, flying that flag. I will not hate her, even though she deliberately set out to hurt thousands of people that day. But I will speak up against her actions, and challenge them.
Her heart and mind will never be changed by hatred. But they might change through love. I’m not sure what that looks like quite yet, but I’m praying next time I’m given words of love that change and correct.
That is, until hopefully, someday, the need to change and correct will be no more.
Considerable thanks to my friend Katrina Frye who has talked through this with me, challenged me, and given me hope that "once we see the humanity in each other will we be able to understand both the girl flying her flag and the family crossing the street." Because both are looking to belong. Grateful for your friendship as we do life and faith together over California burritos (with no meat.)