The Flag of Southern Reconciliation
“Across the South, we have a deep appreciation of history – we haven’t always had a deep appreciation of each other’s history.” Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney (1973-2015)
I’ve been driving around my hometown of Sylva as of late and have seen many men driving around in pickups flying the “Confederate” flag. Recently, President Obama visited Oklahoma and was greeted by a crowd waving many such flag. No doubt this is a reaction to the president and many others asking that the flag, long a symbol of a political regime that profited from slavery and then upheld segregation in the South, to be taken down from public buildings and banished to history books and museums. Flags are visual shorthands for political statements long after they have seen use in battlefields. By flying a flag you don’t have to be articulate in your discourse, entertain subtle arguments nor regard the humanity of those that do not fly the same flag or another, but it doesn’t always have to be so.
In an earlier post I wrote about my longing for a different set of symbols that signaled the recognition that we can come together as a people. I gave the flag and anthems of South Africa as examples of what could be possible. We could start with the “Confederate” flag itself. If you adopt the bumper sticker slogan that it represents “heritage not hate,” you are advertising that you are either ignorant of or selectively forgetting the fact that many people have a visceral reaction to it: noting that the creators and adopters of the flag did up hold the superiority of the white race over the black race. Later they opposed Civil Rights laws that restored the dignity of people of color for the same reason.
Perhaps what we need is a symbol that would be a short hand that one recognizes that European colonizers and an independent United States committed atrocious acts of ethnic cleansing in the South against the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, Natchez, and Seminole nations. The land we stand on was forcibly taken from them. We need one that speaks to our understanding of the horrors of the Middle Passage and of the slave auctions. We need one that helps us remember the terror of escaped slaves as they dashed in the night toward freedom. We need one that speaks to the horrors of war on all sides. We need a symbol that keeps the victims of lynchings alive in our spirits. We need one that tells us of Civil Rights organizers and marchers that were murdered, and those whose effort gave birth to a new concept of human dignity.
We also need a symbol that tells us about our future. It would show how we stood on the crossroads of history and chose the path of solidarity and understanding of each others suffering that would allow us to build a country together. It would be an inviting symbol that calls us, people of all races, to hope.
As an exercise, I took it upon myself to design a flag that would speak to me of that understanding. I started with the Southern Cross, or the Cross of St. Andrew, and incorporated colors to and around it. This also evokes the Mexican Nahua symbol for omexalli or crossroads, which is a place of encounters as well as a partitioning of the cosmos into four directions, which together make a whole. This image is also present in native american flags throughout the continent. For the African-American experience I drew from the UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association) or Pan-African flag the red, black and green.
From the colors of the American flag I have red, white and blue. From the Native American experience I’ve incorporated yellow (found in the flags and seals of the surviving southeastern Native American nations. I owe a design debt to the flags of South Africa and Jamaica and their historical experience. I’m calling this flag the “Flag of Southern Reconciliation.” I don’t expect that this flag would start to show up everywhere, although a few “likes” wouldn’t hurt. What I hope to demonstrate is that we need more of this imaginative processes if we are to find a path as a people together. I’m not the first one to explore this idea (Google “Nu South flag”). What would your new Southern flag look like? What would be your anthems, your seals, your monuments that speak to you of our future together?