True story No. 1: I have an old friend with a Confederate Battle Flag tattoo—an African-American woman born and raised in South Carolina. She's a JAG officer and a decorated Iraq war vet. Her sorority pledge nickname just happened to be "Rebel," but the tat is also a proud symbol of her Southern birthright.
Like a lot of native Southerners, she genuinely identifies with the sentiment expressed by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell this week, describing "our Commonwealth's shared history" when he issued his formal proclamation that Virginia will once again celebrate Confederate History Month.
McDonnell's already come out and apologized for glossing over the seamy history of the Confederate States of America. As The American Prospect's Adam Serwer rightly noted, "If you're going to 'honor' what Confederate soldiers fought for, you should at least have the honesty to acknowledge what exactly that was—the 'freedom' to own black people as property."
But the main problem with Virginia's Confederate History Month isn't slavery—it's "Virginia." Because there's nothing wrong with Virginians or anyone else commemorating their Confederate heritage as long as the government of one of the 50 United States of America isn't the sponsor. That's really where McDonnell went wrong.
From now on, three simple rules should apply to any and all celebrations of Confederate History Month:
It makes no more sense to have the Confederate Battle Flag as part of any U.S. state's flag, or flying in front of any state's capitol building than it does to have the flag of imperial Japan flying there. If a country—including the C.S.A.—attacked the United States, then that country is our enemy. No matter how much diplomatic relations improve, rest assured you'll never see Kuwait flying Iraq's flag on the Emir's palace grounds.
On the other hand, there's nothing wrong with Confederate nostalgists putting Confederate Battle Flags on their T-shirts, bumper stickers and coffee mugs. They've got a constitutional right to proudly fly that flag on the front porches of their homes. But once you ask any state, county or municipality to get into the Confederate business, you're asking the American taxpayer to endorse and subsidize a rogue apartheid insurgency—that lost. Thanks, but no thanks.
??? History Month
Since Confederate History Month celebrates the history and culture of a short-lived nation-state that attacked the good ol' U.S. of A.—and lost—Confederate celebrants ought to be precluded from ever complaining about any other holiday they may not approve of: Gay Pride Month, Indigenous Peoples' Month, Chrismukkah or Kwanzaa. If it's good enough for Dixie, then it's a Festivus for the rest of us.
Why not make it more inclusive? We've got a black president—as good a time as any to roll Confederate History Month in with Juneteenth. All we'd need would be a little acknowledgment that more than 600,000 (yes, that many) Northerners and Southerners didn't actually die fighting over the gentility of plantation culture. More than anything else, they died because they feared the economic upheaval resulting from the upending of slavery—the original government entitlement program. And a simple "my bad" would probably cover it.
True story No. 2: Ten years after moving to North Carolina from Oakland, California, my wife and I went to Charleston, S.C. to watch Venus Williams win the Family Circle Cup. We arrived in Charleston—with its Revolutionary War façades and cobblestone streets looking like the studio back lot for Roots—and found ourselves in the middle of an all-city full dress revival honoring 13 Confederate submariners who died at the bottom of Charleston's harbor.
Had we stumbled across that scene years earlier, before we'd lived in the South, we surely would have made a swift exit out of town. But after a decade of Southern living, all that two transplanted Californians could muster were a shrug and a chuckle. If thousands were moved to travel far and wide in remembrance of fallen members of a navy that sought the outright overthrow of their own country, what else was there to say?
As long as the celebration doesn't have the imprimatur of government; as long as the Confederate Battle Flag doesn't fly on the grounds of a town hall, county jail, public school or military installation, and as long as they leave everyone else the hell alone, then why not? Making a fuss over confederate commemorations just gives their participants what they crave most: a taste of martyrdom. But as long as it's not a state sanctioned event—and sadly, Virginia's is—let it be.
Just make sure to let me know in advance, so I can plan to be out of town.
David Swerdlick is a regular contributor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter.
David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.