To my student who came to class yesterday wearing a rebel flag t-shirt with these words: “If this shirt offends you, you need a history lesson.”
Dear student, Yes I am offended, although I am quite certain I know far more history than your 16 years could possibly have given you, and I am quite certain I am not of the race you were hoping to offend. I am offended that you share my skin color and are sending such a stupid and arrogant message which some might believe speaks for all who are white. I am offended that you know or care so little about a heritage other than yours that you choose to wear something that offends its population, just because you live in a free country.
Do you need to study your history? Do you know this free country that gives you the right to offend others is the United States of America, which has its own flag now? Do you know that the confederacy lost the war in 1865 and no longer exists? Do you know that probably everyone whose family has lived in the South since the 1850s, including the black population, shares your “heritage” of having a confederate soldier in their family tree (as well as Korean War soldiers, and WWI and WWII and Vietnam . . .) but that most of us are not wearing t-shirts with confederate symbols? Do you know that the offensive flag you choose to wear was just one of several battle flags carried by the various confederate armies, and that if you were really interested in history and heritage more than in offending others, there are other "heritage" symbols from which to choose?
And while we’re talking education, how’s your math? If, by chance, your “heritage” pride stems from having a great-great-great-great-grandfather who was a confederate soldier, whom I’m quite certain you never met since you are less than 100 years old, did you know that you also have 31 other great-great-great-great -grandfathers, about whom perhaps you know nothing, and who are all equally related to you? (Do the math.) Perhaps one who was a union soldier, or one who was a thief or a murderer, or one who was an abolitionist . . . Perhaps you should wear t-shirts honoring all of these, just in case, and maybe you should also add t-shirts to honor your 16 great-great-great-grandfathers, your 8 great-great-grandfathers, and your 4 great-grandfathers . . . maybe you’ll want to add the grandmothers too . . . (If your pride stems not from a great-great-great-great-grandfather but a great-great-great-great-uncle instead, then the numbers are FAR greater than these.)
I wonder if you choose to wear the rebel flag precisely because it offends. If so, the racist label the shirt gives you is a proper one. If not, you are brainwashed by others for whom it is. Rise above the ignorance you are wearing. Read some books about slavery. Watch some movies about the Civil Rights Era. Sit down to lunch with someone who doesn’t look like you (but change shirts first). As your shirt says, you need to study your history, but more importantly you need to cultivate a heritage of respect for all human beings.
If this blog offends you, the good news is we are all capable of change, and discarded t-shirts make excellent rags for dusting furniture or washing cars.