I pass a Confederate flag almost daily. I don't feel enraged.
The Washington Post News Service
August 17, 2015 Copyright 2015 WP Bloomberg.
Heading toward the gym, for the past month or so, I've passed it. A large, billowing Confederate flag in a yard on a busy thoroughfare.
The homeowner at some point added a sign: "Even in Bowie. First Amendment applies to everyone. Don't like it, move."
Seriously? I thought.
I considered knocking on the door. I considered talking to neighbors, but in the end, I didn't stop the car. I don't like the Confederate flag, but I refused to be especially troubled by it. It's a choice, an option open to us all. Because here's what we should understand about the hard bargains of American democracy: Harbor what you like in your heart and in your home, but if it's not on public property, we'll all just keep it moving.
The Confederate flag's legacy has faded from the white-hot national spotlight, but what we're left with are all these individual decisions about how to handle it.
Here's what happened in Bowie, Md. "I got a call from a resident who saw the flag and was quite disturbed," Mayor G. Frederick Robinson says. "I told him I'd reach out to the homeowner. I sent a nice note that said, 'Look, nobody disputes your right to fly the flag; however, you must know it is offensive to some of your neighbors, and I would respectfully request that you reconsider your display.' "
Robinson got a nasty letter in reply. But the last time I drove by the house, a few days ago, I didn't see the flag.
"If we flew the flag over City Hall, that's a debate," the mayor says; that's public space. But Bowie is diverse, and diversity means more than race and gender: It means ideas. "And we're not guaranteed the freedom from being offended."
This month, Marist Poll released a study about race relations. And, no surprises, we're all split down the middle.
A majority of Americans, 53 percent, are clear that slavery was at the heart of the Civil War. So 150 years later, that's good. A plurality, 44 percent, think race relations are worsening, with only 1 in 5 saying they're improving. And Americans are divided (49 percent in favor, 43 percent against) on whether the flag should be removed from government spaces.
After the protests in Ferguson, after the Charleston massacre, after widespread national reconsideration of Confederate symbols, we might want more obvious progress. What we have now is messy and exhausting. We see signs of change, but also of grappling, which is sneakier than change and often shows up as profound discomfort. That grappling, which numbers don't reflect, seems to be happening block by block, institution by institution, person by person. And that's just fine. If that's how it spreads, so be it.
Last week, the University of Texas began moving a statue of the Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, away from the center of its Austin campus. The statue will become part of a history display.
A recent report detailed a season of agricultural fairs marked by bans, clamoring and is we is, or is we ain't selling Confederate merchandise decisions. One fair, one vendor at a time.
Jason Latour and Jason Aaron created an award-winning comic book about life in a corrupt Alabama county called "Southern Bastards" that's being turned into a show on FX. The most recent issue features a dog shredding the Confederate flag in his teeth. "Death to the Flag, Long Live the South," the cover reads.
At the end of the issue, Latour wrote in an essay that this was not something "that was waded into casually. . . . I'm a white Southern man who, despite my harsh objections to what I feel it represents, is willing to admit that I have a conflicted relationship with the Confederate flag." He went on to explain in an interview: "I think silence would be like a vote in the other direction. Like a vote for the flag."
They've donated proceeds of the issue to victims of the Charleston shooting.
My daughters drove past that Bowie yard Friday. That Confederate flag is back up. I'm wondering now whether I just overlooked it last time. Like many Americans, maybe I've just become very practiced in focusing on the road ahead.