Last weekend, in the bucolic countryside of central Pennsylvania, there was a bluegrass festival. Yet that lovely setting did nothing to assuage my horror in seeing the flag that embodies hatred and exclusion, littering the Grange fairgrounds in Centre Hall. The Confederate flag was on 360 degrees of display; on high flagpoles, RVs, even streaming behind golf-carts and mopeds. Also, for those who had forgotten to pack everything they needed for what I had thought was a music festival, Confederate flags were also conveniently available for purchase from a vendor.
I felt disgusted, but then failed to say anything. The visceral, sickening guilt follows me. That I was not strong enough to say anything makes me feel that I condoned this unapologetic display of hatred. I am tired of doing nothing while I boil inwardly, repulsed by the ugly meanness that is racism.
I do realize that some of the use of the Confederate flag stems from ignorance. Ironically, or perhaps moronically, at this festival the Confederate flag was often paired with the American flag; clearly, if these were thoughtful people they would realize that the two are diametrically opposed symbols. I also realize that many feel that the flag represents the act of being a rebel, however, instead of coming across as edgy rebels, all I see are blind followers, sheep, who choose to fill themselves with hatred rather than seeking more productive ways to express their rebelliousness.
No more. No more do I wish to hear the petulant refrain from Pennsylvanians choosing to display the Confederate flag, which has no possible historical relevance to their heritage: “Well, it does not represent hatred and racism to me.” The Confederate flag does represent the bloody horror that was the Civil War and it does represent the fight to keep slavery legal. Were that flag to fly legitimately today, it would mean that the country-splitting fight was successful and slavery was maintained as an acceptable practice.
We do not accept the public display of swastikas or other evidences of Nazism; it is accepted culturally that to display such symbols would be to directly threaten and undermine the suffering of an entire group of people. The Confederate flag is no different. Freedom of speech is critical, but absolute unreined freedom in anything, including speech, will ever result in chaos and in the unraveling of the underpinnings of our society. Other values, like respect for others, demand that we re-evaluate the display of the Confederate flag. This is not about political correctness, this is a matter of ethical and moral decency. And, above all else, this is a matter of love — love that demands inclusivity and acceptance of our fellow human beings. This festival ought to have been about bluegrass and a sense of community wherein people come together to listen, dance and make music. Instead, by neglecting to act, the organizers chose to allow unbridled hatred to dictate who could not feel comfortable at the festival, and in doing so, they made it clear who was not welcome. During this time in our country in particular, I would have wished to escape the overwhelming sorrow of current events through music; instead I was forced to see how entrenched the problem of racism is, even amid the verdant rolling hills of central Pennsylvania.
A.E. Allan is from Alexandria.