Tuesday, September 19, 2017

On Flying the Confederate Flag in West Virginia (of All Places)

Once, I was driving, slowly and carefully, down the dirt road that leads to my house. I always drive slowly and carefully on this road, because this is a family neighborhood, and children play all over the place around here. One in particular has been known to pop out of the trees on his dirt bike, right in front of my car, but I digress.

I was, as usual, driving carefully down the dirt road when some pimply-faced teenager in a broken-down, rusted-out sh*tbox of a truck came flying out of a side street, nearly slamming into the front of my reliable, barely-scratched-and-dented-at-all Subaru. A large Confederate flag on an honest-to-god flagpole flapped over the bed of his truck. This probably happened about three years ago, but I’m still pissed off about it, because of that Confederate flag. Sure, you're free to fly your Confederate flag, but I'm just as free to make several assumptions about your character, and let me tell you, none of them are good.

There’s been a lot of debate lately about whether or not individual Americans and/or state and local government agencies should be flying the Confederate flag. I’m going to come down firmly on the anti-Confederate-flag side of this debate. I don’t think anyone has any business flying the Confederate flag in this day and age. “It’s heritage, not hate!” you say, but the flaw with that argument is that it pretty clearly is a heritage of hate, though. If your heritage includes committing treason and owning human beings as property, well, those are parts of your heritage that I'd think you'd want to downplay, not brag about. I mean, people sidle nervously away from me if I mention my abusive ex or that time my mother castrated a dog, but you're allowed to strut around literally waving a racist flag AND get all bent out of shape when people ask you not to, like they're getting offended on purpose just to piss you off? It's all about you, isn't it? No. No it's not.

But, even I have to admit that it’s one thing flying the Confederate flag in Virginia or South Carolina or some other state that was actually part of the Confederacy. If your family’s lived in Atlanta for the past twelve generations and General Sherman personally burned down your great-great-great-great grandmother, then displaying the Confederate flag on your property at least kind of makes sense. Mind you, it still makes you look like someone whose dog would get “inexplicably” nervous around black people, but it’s more-or-less logical if you leave out the fact that the Civil War has been over for 152 years. Flying the Confederate flag in states that were not a part of the Confederacy, such as West Virginia, takes a special kind of disrespect for your culture and your ancestors. Were you not paying attention in your West Virginia history class? West Virginia formed its own government in 1861 and was recognized as a Union state in 1863. We did this specifically because we didn’t want to secede from the Union. We didn't want to join the Confederate States of America because we didn't share their culture or values. The rugged territory in what was then called Trans-Allegheny Virginia made the establishment of large, profitable plantations – and the slave labor required to run them – less practical than in the eastern Tidewater and Piedmont regions, and early settlers consisted mostly of poor German and  Scots-Irish immigrants who supported their families via subsistence farming in some of the country’s most remote communities.

Many Trans-Allegheny Virginians always wanted their own state; efforts to establish an independent state west of the Alleghenies date back to the American Revolution, when Appalachia was considered the frontier. The Virginia State Constitution of 1829 established property qualifications for suffrage that many of the poorer farmers in the western part of the state couldn't meet; when you factored the three – fifths compromise into this, it disenfranchised almost everyone who lived in the mountains. The eastern planter elite controlled the state legislature and served their own interests while ignoring the needs of the underrepresented west. So, when we saw an opportunity to ditch those a—holes, we took it. Immediately.

And now you have the gumption to fly a Confederate flag anyway. What's that funny sound I hear? Oh, right. It's your great-great-great-great grandfather spinning in his grave.