I moved from Houston, Texas, to Morristown, Tennessee, when I was 13 years old. Not long after, I had my first serious run-in with the Confederate flag. A high-school classmate of mine was wearing a T-shirt that bore it and some arrangement of the words “rebel” and “pride.” When I asked why he wore the shirt, ready to snap back against whatever racist response he might conjure up, he simply said it’s about Southern pride. For a long time, I almost bought it.
I’ve always carried with me a certain brand of Southern pride. There are few views more beautiful than the sun rising over the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. I appreciate the cordiality of strangers—when it’s genuine. And, yes, everything is bigger in Texas. I willingly identify with that unspoken bond that unites those of us born in the states of the South. But my brand of pride has never embraced the Confederate flag.
My dad told me last week that I’d be offended if I were to return home to Tennessee. Since the Confederate flag was removed from state capitol grounds in South Carolina, he explained, it has proliferated on lawns, bumper stickers, and T-shirts—it’s everywhere. “You wouldn’t believe it now.”
That flag simply cannot be divorced from the white-supremacist, pro-slavery doctrine of the Confederacy. My colleague Ta-Nehisi Coates made that case quite forcefully in his call to remove the flag in the wake of the attack on Emmanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston:
Visitors to Charleston have long been treated to South Carolina’s attempt to clean its history and depict its secession as something other than a war to guarantee the enslavement of the majority of its residents. This notion is belied by any serious interrogation of the Civil War and the primary documents of its instigators. Yet the Confederate battle flag—the flag of Dylann Roof—still flies on the Capitol grounds in Columbia.
And even post-Charleston, a majority—58 percent—of people living in the South consider it to be a symbol of pride. Among my Southern peers, in other words, my brand of pride is in the minority.