I'm staunchly against the culture of offense which drives so much American opinion and policy these days. Having managed a very large online community, I learned that offense is 1.viral (if one person vents about what offends them, you can count on an epidemic of outrage in short order), and 2. unquenchable (once offense is expressed - and especially once it's coddled - there's no end to it; you can massage every wound, pad every sharp edge, but umbrage will continue to madly accelerate. Encouraged to ceaselessly monitor her comfort level, a princess will always detect a pea).
Trying to soothe everyone creates a dystopia. Academia is experiencing this as we speak. We just can't go that route. People living in a plurality, as we do, must restrain their offense-taking. Every minority deserves equal freedom and rights, but not the further step of insulation from offense. Pluralism is inherently frictional. We don't want to open that worm can. It bears repeating: offense is unquenchable.
That said, the confederate flag, with its clear racist association, being hoisted by governments at this late date seems nearly unbelievable. It's an extreme case, akin to the American Nazi Party marching in Skokie (home to many Holocaust survivors). On the other hand, I supported that march.
I also acknowledge that the Confederate flag is a symbol of Southern heritage, which certainly includes much more than the horrendous treatment of African-Americans. We didn't force the Germans to reject all German culture after the Nazi defeat; everyone deserves to celebrate their heritage, even if it means looking past dark parts - as it does for every one of us**. If we were to shun the heritage of every culture which has ever committed atrocities, we'd be a blanked-out world devoid of all culture or tradition.
That said, Germany doesn't permit the flying of the Nazi flag. Germany and German heritage are fine. Nazi heritage...not so much.
The analogy isn't perfect. And while the frictions of pluralism may be forgivable, organized hatred and its symbols feel like another thing. But is the Confederate flag truly that? America, too, has done despicable things, persecuting and killing a great many innocent people. Survivors and descendants may feel traumatized by our continued existence. Does this make the stars and stripes a symbol of hate? How virtuous must a culture be to be entitled to celebrate itself? And who decides that?
Back and forth, the matter keeps ping-ponging inside me. The only thing I'm sure of is that, like many other issues most people consider profoundly simple, it's deeply complicated. But, in any case, it certainly doesn't revolve around any one instance of horrible violent persecution.
** - Even the atrocity of slavery is a stain shared by all Americans - including African-Americans. Being American means taking on the baggage as well as the privileges. You and I may not have tortured prisoners in Abu Ghraib, and our families may not have owned slaves, but if the country isn't us, then what, exactly, is it?
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