EDITORIAL: No hiding story of Confederate flags
A Harrisburg-based activist planned to come to downtown York today to set fire to two symbols of hatred in America.
Attorney Gene Stilp has scheduled a flag-burning ceremony in which he is to torch a two-sided banner, with a Confederate flag on one side and a Nazi flag on the other. He has held similar demonstrations throughout the state and elsewhere, including outside the NASCAR-hosting Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama.
He says the local protest is intended to shine a light on the many hate-filled banners that flutter in the Pennsylvania skies.
Alas, the ceremony is hardly necessary — for that purpose, anyway.
Nazi emblems are, thankfully and rightly, scarce. But anyone who commutes through central Pennsylvania knows that Confederate flags are far from a rarity, waving ignorantly from homes, businesses, and the antenna of pick-up trucks.
They are a sad reflection of the mindset and biases of those who hoist them.
We’ve heard the justifications.
“They commemorate heritage.” In the South, maybe, but not in these parts. Pennsylvania fought for the Union.
“They honor American soldiers who died for their cause.” Yes, but their cause was secession from the union — the very dissolution of the nation — to protect the institution of slavery. Nothing honorable there.
“It’s a symbol of defiance of the government.” It is that. Although what, specifically, is being defied is never entirely clear.
But it is much, much more.
Whether those who feel the need to fly Confederate flags wish to acknowledge it or not, the emblem symbolizes racial bigotry, white supremacy and common cause with the biases and hatred that scarred our nation with two centuries of slavery, a century of Jim Crow laws and continued inequality among the races.
Under this flag, not only did Confederate soldiers battle to divide the United States so that they could continue to enslave their fellow man, but hooded Klansmen terrorized, brutalized, tortured and murdered thousands of African-Americans.
While there is no questioning the perspective being promulgated when Nazi symbolism is flaunted — and very little tolerance for that perspective — Confederate symbolism, sadly, has been given cover of late by a Trump administration that downplays the actions and attitudes of white supremacists both past and present.
White House chief of staff John Kelly, for example, last month insisted the Civil War was triggered over little more than an inability of North and South to compromise, and that Confederate Gen. Robert E. lee was “an honorable man.” The administration defended him.
And President Trump himself refused to call out white supremacists following a deadly demonstration this summer in Charlottesville, Virginia. He instead equated the actions of the supremacists with those protesting them. Sad.
So it’s no wonder that those who may harbor racial resentment, hostility to those who are different or outright bigotry feel emboldened to wear their hatred on their sleeves — or project it from their flagpoles, as it were.
But they should be honest with themselves.
Flag-fliers can characterize themselves as rebels, defend their position as racially neutral, or dismiss criticisms as misguided. They may delude themselves but they are not deluding the public.
They should know that the story they are telling themselves is not the story they are telling the world. They story they are telling the world is that they are racially prejudiced and proud of it.
That is not a story that honorably represents York County, or Pennsylvania, or anywhere else in a right-thinking America.