The False Narrative of ‘Heritage, Not Hate’

Commentary
By James Simpson 8-12-2017
A member of a white supremacists militia stands near a rally in Charlottesville, Va., August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
 

“Heritage, not hate” — it's a phrase that has become all too common to those who grew up in the South, and increasingly elsewhere, when talking about the Confederate flag. The argument goes something like this:

The Civil War was fought over state's rights, not slavery. My ancestors fought for their families, their homes, and for the constitutional right of states to govern within their own borders, not for the right to own slaves. The Confederate Army was made up overwhelmingly of poor farmers and my ancestors and the vast majority of those fighting for the Confederacy never owned slaves. The flag under which they fought was not, and therefore is not, a symbol of racism but of the struggle for state rights. And the first amendment guarantees my right to freedom of speech, so I have a right to display the Confederate flag in whatever manner I choose. It's heritage, not hate.

Can you imagine one of the white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., making this same argument for the swastika, somehow trying to suggest that it isn't a display of hate but of the heritage of the ancient Hindu principle of "making of goodness"?

For my friends and family who might truly believe that the Confederate flag is merely a symbol of heritage and history, the images on display in Charlottesville show that for many — on both sides — the flag is the ultimate symbol of hate in this country. You can no longer defend a symbol that cannot be separated from white supremacy and racism.

As Christians we are well aware of the importance of symbols: the ichthys for earlier Christians in hiding; the empty cross on Easter Sunday; symbols of the dove, the anchor, the shepherds crook.

Symbols are important because they hold meaning and significance.

As Christians we we have to start confronting those who choose to display a symbol of hate.

James Simpson is Senior Adviser to the President at Sojourners.

Don't Miss a Story!

Get Sojourners delivered straight to your inbox.

Have Something to Say?

Add or Read Comments on
"The False Narrative of ‘Heritage, Not Hate’"
Launch Comments
By commenting here, I agree to abide by the Sojourners Comment Community Covenant guidelines and acknowledge that my comment may be published in the Letters to the Editor section of Sojourners magazine.

Must Reads

Subscribe