Written by Vinnie MacIsaac with Jeremiah Sepolen, Jason O’Rourke, and Anonymous

This piece first ran at Vinnie MacIsaac's blog simplyvinnie.com and is reposted with permission.

Author’s Note: We planned and nearly finished this blog before the events of August 12-13th in Charlottesville VA, but the timing appears to have been Spirit-led as we were putting our finishing touches on it just as people lost their lives around these symbols. VM [2]

Vinnie’s Experience

I moved from Canada to the USA in 1998. I knew there had been a Civil War, and I knew that slavery was the major issue that provoked the war. I knew the south had lost, and slavery had come to an end setting off a century or more of “Jim Crow” segregation laws. But for some unexplained reason, I had zero idea that it was tied to the Confederate flag. I likely zoned out in my high school American history class assuming I’d never live here.

I honestly thought the Confederate flag was just a flag from the South that they used on the car of the Dukes of Hazzard TV show.

You have to go back in time and realize this was the time of the resurgence of the Dukes of Hazzard and they were making TV reunion movies, which was all the fad of the era. I was in a Dukes of Hazard fan club, and still young enough to be re-living my childhood as a young adult. I was super excited I could actually go to conventions and cast gatherings being in NC.

The cable guy came to hook us up in our new place in Durham, NC. I was still unpacking, so my living room was a mixture of Dukes of Hazzard memorabilia, chief among them was confederate flag filled messages. In your mental image of my living room, picture the perfect mix of Jesus and Bible stuff interwoven with Confederate flag memorabilia, and that was about the disarray of my unpacking phase. At the same time, I recall I was working on a new image for my Dukes of Hazzard Club and had a big ol’ Confederate flag image on my computer monitor. I was 28 years old and clueless as to why this was odd. As they say on Sesame Street, “One of these things is not like the other,” but I had no idea that applied to Jesus and that flag.

Vinnie MacIsaac

The cable guy was, as fate would have it, African- American, and he noticed what I could not. I was completely put off by the way he was acting really cold and short with me. He was still professional but he sounded annoyed. I just wanted to make small talk and be friendly, but he was having none of it. I kept trying to strike a conversation with him, as is my nature, and just got the “let me do my job” vibe.

At the end of the install, he broke professional protocol and looked me right in the eye and asked me if I was really a Christian. I was a little shocked but said, “Yes.” His only response was to roll his eyes and leave.

The General Lee from the Dukes Of Hazzard fame was a moonshine-running car turned Nascar circuit race car endowed with “super powers,” that aided the Duke boy’s from being captured by Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane and company.

The second he left, I went online and searched for, “Why the Dukes of Hazzard Offends people.” And that, folks, is how I learned about the confederate flag!

I admit to this day it’s hard for me to balance this in my heart and mind and reach a healthy outcome. Growing up in rural Canada with only two TV channels (one of them French), the Dukes of Hazard was a childhood staple. Being in the fan clubs, I have met almost all the cast, even built friendships with some. I have driven in countless authentic and replica “General Lee’s. “ Looking objectively at the material presented on the TV show, there was not a racist idea or word ever shown on the TV show. It was harmless family fun. But the problem I now ache over is that it was harmless family fun depending on who your family was, what race they were, and where they have lived. What to me was simply the coolest race car to ever grace any TV set, to others is a constant reminder of pain, suffering, injustice, and slavery. I confess I remain complexed and unprocessed.

"Helen’s" Experience [3]

I saw it as soon as we walked out of the store from our back-to-school shopping; a big red pickup with a big Confederate Flag flying from the back. Immediately, I felt uncomfortable and wished that I wasn’t parked so close to it. I didn’t grow up in the USA, and this reminder of not belonging is hard to shake. Outwardly, I look like I belong. And all of my kids are American. But I’ve seen the words people have written about how if you don’t like how things are here, you should just go home. And those words seared a message in my mind of intolerance. I hoped that the kids wouldn’t notice it or comment on it; I didn’t want to have to try to explain anything to my four young children yet. But that was wishful thinking. One of the younger ones spotted it almost as quickly as I had and shouted,

“Look! A Flag!”

My oldest, ever the precise child, corrected, “It’s a Confederate Flag.”

“Why are they flying a Confederate Flag?” asked another as we walked ever closer to our car, and thus the flag. He’d learned a little about the Civil War last year in our social studies, and he knew that we were not in the south and that the Confederates had not won that war and he was clearly puzzled about why someone would fly that flag.

“I really don’t know,” I answered as quietly as I could, as I loaded kids and purchases quickly into the vehicle. “It’s probably because they want to show that they believe in what the flag stands for.”

“And what is that?”

“What did the Confederates believe in?” I encouraged them to think a little for themselves before answering further. Plus, I didn’t quite know what to say, because I don’t fully understand.

My oldest answered, “They wanted to have slaves.”

“That’s right. Some people think that certain people are more important than others. They don’t like people who are not like them and sometimes they can be unkind. They want to remind us of that. We need to make sure that we always treat each other kindly and with respect, even if we don’t really like what they are doing.”

And with that, the children nodded and moved on to bickering over who got what book to look at on the way home. I finished loading up, grateful that they were satisfied with that small explanation, knowing that someday we’ll have to address it in greater depth. Hopefully next time I can have a better answer for them. As I got into my seat, I noticed the truck driving away. I breathed a little sigh of relief, both from knowing that our conversation was over before the owner came by and from not being near the flag any longer.

Jason’s Experience

Jason O'Rourke

Wow! Where to start. What is a Confederate flag Experience? Is it solely localized to the Confederate flag? Not for me…for a black person.

It starts by understanding that the Confederation was the Southern states seeking states’ rights, not wanting the Federal government to overstep itself into state affairs.

It starts by recognizing that slavery started in the North and that the North was complicit in allowing it.

It starts by knowing that the states’ rights argument was about the states rights to own slaves, as clearly stated in the South’s Articles of Confederation. The North finally got around addressing it due to the possibility of the expansion of slavery into new territory. A power struggle existed, and would grow, in Congress should slavery continue and expand.

It starts by knowing that the South’s reason for seceding was very much about slavery.

It starts by knowing that the Constitution, as interpreted by the courts, meant that black people are three-fifths human.

It starts by knowing that Christians across this great nation, particularly in the south, viewed and treated black people at best as children, and at worst as less than animals.

It starts by knowing the horrors that slavery was, from kidnapping to separating families, to selling people, to branding and beating people; the sex plantations where slaves were mated with the opposite sex, regardless of familial relationships, to the raping of slaves: males, to show dominance; females (old and young) to satisfy lusts, et al.

It continued by recognizing that Ellen White[4] says the Civil War was God punishing both the North and the South for the sin of slavery.

It continued by knowing of the slavery reality of peonage, prison labor and the unequal/unjust sentencing, black slave codes, Jim Crow laws, lynching, Richard Nixon’s War on drugs, the housing redlining policies, the need for the Civil Rights Movement, etc.

It continued with the reality that my Seventh-day Adventist denomination[5] in North America has separate conferences for the purpose of “pursuing mission” because when those conferences were separated, they were done so because the General Conference president would not fully integrate the church when blacks asked for full integration and participation. That we change the language to defend such a vestige of segregation and racism is a strong condemnation of our denomination and clear evidence that our own three angels message means nothing to us.

It continued in my grade school when the principle there would not allow the black boys to play with the white girls, because God did not ordain the races to mix…even though none of us were really interested in actually dating.

It continued with varsity football white boys wearing Ku Klux Klan robes and hoods to school.

It continued with being the only black boy at my job in high school when a group of local white boys comes in a starts calling me “boy” and “nigger,” and threatening harm to me, while my white counterparts stood there, saying and doing nothing of support.

It continued with a fight after a basketball game with a rival school, where racial epithets were being yelled at us from opposing players and fans. The fight included not only the opposition’s players but their fans and family in the stands.

It continued with being in the military, and one squad in my platoon being called the Aryan Nation because they were all white, and the squad leader was proud of that.

It continued with the preparation to head to Haiti by our unit, and that same squad leader being upset when the deployment to Haiti is called off because he was looking forward to “killing some coons.”

It continued in the military, when the Equal Opportunity Officers information board being used, with permission of the EO officer, to post racist symbols.

It continues when I am told I cannot put up any pictures of Malcolm X or Martin Luther King, Jr., because in the military we are all green, while in the same platoon confederate flags are being hung in people’s rooms.

It continued having a white soldier come into my room and turn off my music, but everyone else is allowed to blast their rock-n-roll as loud as they want.

It continued being pulled over by four cop cars, and held there for an extended period of time, for nothing more than a blown tail light.

It continued by listening to theologians who continue to teach that music with non-euro-rhythmic music is satanic, derived from Africa, and full of voodoo. One prominent music minister said that God’s ultimate goal in fallen-human worship is the Eurocentric style of music and worship.

It continued with a professor at Seminary[6] telling black students that celebration during worship is bad praxis, because we have not been translated to heaven yet, and so there is nothing to celebrate. It continued when being taught Revelation 13, and the Lamb-like beast[7] begins to speak like a dragon when religious liberty is taken. This means that there is no draconian speech on any other issue to freedom in [Adventist] interpretation. So robbing native Americans of their land and genociding them was not draconian? Slavery and all its laws and cultural extensions and implications is not draconian? Women not getting the right to vote until 1920 is not draconian? American-Japanese citizen internment during WW2 was not draconian?

It continues when speaking to people of these issues, they attempt to pacify me by quoting to me Martin L. King, Jr.’s “I have a Dream Speech” while failing to acknowledge that during his time even he was hated by America for his stance on the poor and the Vietnam War. They love him now; they hated him then.

It continues when President Obama is called a socialist, and yet Americans today collect social security checks, have welfare, accept student loan forgiveness from the Federal Government, etc.

It continues with a president who ran his campaign, not on any clearly articulated plan, but on misogyny, racism, xenophobia, Islamaphobia, who is nepotistic, who gave people with histories of blatant racism key seats in his cabinet.

It continues with people who bemoan the minimum distrust and maximum contempt of this current president, declaring we should respect the office, all the while they refuse to call president Obama president, question his citizenship, and called him unpatriotic.

It continues with recognizing that this nation’s response to a president with a stable family, no scandals, a high education, is to elect a man of no education, on his third marriage, who has multiple scandals…

The Confederate flag is the symbol of a defeated rebellion … one which would have made official and legal all the experiences above, and more.The Confederate flag is more than a flag; it is an experience… the Confederate experience.

It continues in confusion, for as a black man it is hard to reconcile the Christianity of people suggesting that to fly the Confederate flag is to celebrate one’s ancestry, race, and culture, when the ancestry, race, and culture that the flag was flown to symbolize was one in which humans were devalued and demonized, abused, and marginalized. If it is immoral to fly the Nazi flag for what it stood for in relationship to Jews, then it is equally repugnant to fly the Confederate flag for what it stood for. To fly it clearly means one is a bigot . . . Unless, of course, the issue isn’t the bigotry at all, nor the flags that symbolize them, but rather that bigotry and its symbols’ acceptance is ok, depend upon whom the bigotry is directed toward; white Jews bigotry and its symbols are intolerable; toward blacks, everything is defensible.

To see that flag is to know that there are still policies and legislation which still impact me differently.

To see that flag is to know and remember that there are people who would make more policies and legislation which will treat me harsher.

To see that flag is to know that historically I am presumed guilty before proven innocent, while my hate counterpart is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

To see that flag is to know and remember that I am societally assumed less intelligent, less capable than others; and thus must work 10x’s harder to be considered competent.

To see that flag is to know and remember that I am assumed to have received a handout, instead of having done the study and work to earn what I have been given.

To see the Confederate flag is to know and remember that there is a large portion of Americans, politically liberal and conservative, who would rather go back to the way things were, instead of to the way things could be…

To see the Confederate flag is to know that no matter what I say, no matter what factual and historical references I refer to, what experiences I and my family have, I will always be accused of race baiting, of living in the past, of forgetting or denying MLK’s dream, of being unpatriotic, of being unchristian, by those who do not share the experience, who deny the experience, and who are unaware of their own history, racial identity, and unChristian apathy.

Jeremiah's Experience

Heritage. A word that possesses more power in its eight letters than eight books could explain. Heritage is important. Heritage is crucial. Heritage is necessary. I believe that understanding where you came from, what your forefathers stood for, and what they endured is crucial to understanding who you are. Heritage. It lets the new generation know that they are part of something far greater than themselves. Heritage. It preserves the principles, values, customs, and traditions of a people. Heritage.

Jeremiah Sepolin

Sam’s Heritage

Although I live in Atlanta, one of the churches I pastor is near Andersonville, GA. Andersonville is a town which celebrates heritage. Everywhere you look in Andersonville the Confederate flag flies high and proud. One afternoon I decided to stop at the civil war museum in Andersonville to gain a deeper understanding of the heritage this majestic symbol represents. When I entered the museum, I encountered the man who founded the museum. For the sake of anonymity, I will call him Sam. Sam was a surprisingly young 92 years old. He moved with swiftness and spoke with an energy laden southern drawl. His eyes were a piercing blue that seemed loaded with a million stories to tell. His skin had a texture that testified of decades of work under the merciless Georgia sun. He wore a military-esque shirt with a Confederate patch over his heart, and on his hat. I began to ask Sam questions about the flag. These questions inevitably led to a discussion regarding the civil war, slavery, and the nearby Andersonville prison camp that was active during the American Civil War. Sam has a unique perspective because he is the grandson of a man who fought for the Confederate Army. Sam was close to his grandfather, as such he had many conversations with a person who had experienced first hand the politics, the gruesomeness, and the reality that was the American Civil War.

The rich heritage of Andersonville, GA.

Sam spoke much of heritage. For him, the Confederate flag, or as he called it “Ol’ Dixie,” reminded him of his grandfather and others like him who fought bravely for their right to decide their future for themselves. To decide how their nation would be run, and who would be considered citizens of that nation. The Andersonville prison camp, as cruel as it was, was an example of victory in a war that was ultimately lost. He beamed with pride as he talked about the fact that his grandfather was a guard at Andersonville, and part of one of the last platoons to lay down their weapons and surrender to the Union Army. To him, that is what the Confederate flag represented… heritage. A heritage of independence, pride, and valor.

Before I continue, I need to let you know a little about myself. I am biracial, the son of a Euro-American mother and an Afro-American father. I was born with reddish hair, nearly white skin, freckles, and green eyes. In shape and dimension most of my features tell of my African ancestry, but in color, my features speak loudly of my European ancestry. As such, in certain situations, if I make an effort to do so (take the bass out of my voice and the swag out of my stride, etc.) I can “pass” as white. When I was talking to Sam, my intention was to attempt to pass as best I could. When the subject turned to slavery, it became obvious my efforts had failed. “You know the war wasn’t about you Blackies.” He quipped. To which I replied calmly and inquisitively, “What was it about?” He responded, “It was about economics and the right to decide for ourselves.” I was only there to learn, so I let him continue without rebuttal. The heritage that the Ol’ Dixie stood for was clear.

My Children’s Heritage

I instill the importance of heritage in my children. We have a rich heritage. In my paternal lineage there are numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins who were active in the civil rights movement. Further back there was an African-American freeman soldier who valiantly fought in the Union Army, masqueraded as a Confederate soldier to rescue his wife and children who were still slaves in the South, then returned to the ranks of the Union Army once they were safely settled in the North. In my maternal lineage are white abolitionists who fought for freedom and justice in the political ranks of the United States. On my father’s side, there are African-American, Caribbean, and Native American cultural influences. On my mother’s side there flows German, Dutch, and English blood. My children have an even richer history. My wife was born in Ghana but grew up in the United States. Her family is from Sierra Leone, and she is a proud member of the Temne tribe, with Mandinka blood on her father’s side, as well. So my children have a heritage that is rich in culture, experience, and tradition from many peoples and tribes. We teach them of their heritage, and we teach them to honor and carry on the heritage that is passed to them.

The Dark side of Heritage

I remember the day like it was yesterday; my son was about three months into potty training. He and I were taking a father-son trip from our home to a small town in South Carolina. Being the daring parent I am, I had put him in underwear for the five-hour drive and trusted that he will tell me if he needs to stop to potty and that I would be able to find a place for him to go before the clock ran out on his toddler bladder. Sure enough, the alarm went off about halfway through our drive, “Daddy, I have to go potty.” To which I urgently responded, “Ok, buddy. Hold it for a moment while I find a place for you to go.” My right foot pressed down harder on the gas pedal as I scanned the back roads we were on for the nearest gas station or restaurant. Soon one was in view. I breathed a sigh of relief, yet as I approached the gas station, I noticed Ol’ Dixie flying proudly outside. I almost stopped but figured maybe I should go to the next one. I kept driving. As I continued to look for a place to stop, I noticed Ol’ Dixie was a common sight in this town. Luckily, or so I thought, there was another gas station on the other side of the road about half a mile farther. I pulled in, jumped out, unsnapped my son’s seat belt, took him out of his car seat, and we headed into the gas station. As we entered, I asked the attendant where the little boy’s room was. To which he responded with a gruff tone, “You cannot use it.” I pulled my son closer as he rocked with the urgency of a toddler who is about to let loose with the fury of Niagra. I looked the attendant in the eye, smiled, and said politely, “I’m happy to make a purchase if that is necessary.” To which he responded, “We don’t want your money, and we don’t want your kind in our store.” I pulled my son tighter to my side. A lady approached me and said, “For the safety of your son I suggest you leave and don’t look back.” I quickly surveyed the room and realized that wet underwear was the better option in this circumstance. I picked him up in my arms as we hurried back to the car. The tears began to fall from his eyes as on my arm I felt a flow of a different kind coming from him. He could not understand why he had to pee on himself in this moment. But it was a part of his heritage I had to teach him soon if he is to navigate life as a black man in America.

You see, heritage has a dark side. There are things my children must know. They should be aware that they are more than five times as likely to be incarcerated than their white friends. I have to teach them that according to the NAACP, “African American children represent 32% of children who are arrested, 42% of children who are detained, and 52% of children whose cases are judicially waived to criminal court.[8] I have to teach them that they are much more likely to be stopped, arrested, and per capita are much more likely to die at the hands of police.[9] Heritage. I have to teach them that on average they will likely make approximately $17k less than a white male with the same education and experience.[10] I have to teach them that they will have to work twice as hard as the next person, but to never give up and to never believe that they are inferior. Heritage. And I have to teach them that when they see Ol’ Dixie to keep on driving or it may cost them their lives.

Sam missed something about the heritage that Ol’ Dixie stands for. When his grandfather, and others like him, fought for the right to decide their own future, it was a future where my grandfather worked for free under the whip of his grandfather. When they wanted the freedom to decide how their nation was to be run and who would be citizens of it, they considered my forefathers and foremothers as nothing greater than cattle (yet they were willing to rape our women). When his grandfather stood guard at Andersonville prison camp while the Union soldiers inside rotted to death (the stench was so bad it could be smelled 20 miles away in Americus, GA), he was motivated to do so by the same demonic force that allowed him to treat human beings as slaves back on his plantation. Yes, the war was ultimately about economics; but an economy that depended on the enslavement of an entire group of people. That is the heritage of Ol’ Dixie, and it is the reason so many people today can fly her alongside a Nazi Swastika flag, the two hold a similar history and share the same principles of hatred.

The Heritage Remains

Eric Garner

But here is the kicker, even if you take down Ol’ Dixie, her heritage remains. It remains in racist policies such as “Stop and Frisk” that target minorities. Heritage. It is solidified every time a bullet paid for by public money and fired by a civil servant takes the life of another innocent black tax payer, and the cop (or neighborhood watch) walks free as if they have done exactly what the system wants them to do. Heritage. It is reflected in the fact that Dylan Roof takes nine black lives in a church but gets peacefully arrested and fed on the way to prison, while Eric Garner gets an immediate death sentence on the street for selling loose cigarettes. Heritage. It is reflected in a president who condemns “hate from ALL sides” after the chaos in Charlottesville, putting the murderous white nationalists who were waving Ol’ Dixie, in the same boat as those standing against hatred; legitimizing white supremacy. Ol’ Dixie may not be flying above the South Carolina capital anymore, but she is flying high in the systemic racism of this nation, and in the hearts of so many. Heritage.

Vinnie’s Closing Thought

Heather Heyer was killed by a white supremacist Neo-Nazi in Charlottesville VA, USA. She died a real American hero fighting the Nazi ideology almost 70’s years after the end of WW2. She was a true patriot. “Red, Brown, Yellow, Black, and White. They were all precious in her sight. Let us keep living out her fight.”

I can’t tell you the motivation of everyone who waves the Confederate flag. I can’t tell you if they are, as in my case, ignorant in the use of it. I can’t tell you because in part, I am the wrong color and that means I never feel the full sting of its edged stars and X-ed style cross. For me, a burning torch is a patio lantern but for others, like this past weekend in Charlottesville, it was a symbol of hate that would lead to murder. I can’t tell you why Helen’s child is left with questions and Jeremiah’s child is left with urine filled pants. I can’t tell you why Jason is repeatedly pulled over for no reason and made to wait, but when I am pulled over the officer gives me his personal card in case I need further assistance to avoid a future ticket on the same violation. And I still can’t even tell you what I am going to do about my childhood favorite show and my childhood heroes who drive around in the coolest car covered in the vilest hate symbol ever created in America.

But this is what I can tell you, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,”[11] and if you don’t get that, if you won’t stand up and fight for that, if that is not among your inner most core values, I can tell you, you’re likely not in Christ and you ought deeply seek Him anew. The time to stand and be brave is now, lest you sink and slither back in the Kingdom of Darkness.

“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:14)

Footnotes

[1] Each person’s thoughts, political or otherwise are their own and are expressed in the blog for the purposes of freedom of expression of the individual they belong to.

[2] http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/11/us/charlottesville-white-nationalists-rally-why/index.html

[3] Helen is a pseudonym. Helen opted not to use her real name since she is a Pastor’s wife and does not want to be inundated with political debates.

[4] Ellen White was a Founder in the denomination of Jason’s employment.

[5] Seventh-day Adventist Church, North American Division

[6] Andrews University Seminary

[7] According to popular Adventist teaching

[8] http://www.naacp.org/criminal-justice-fact-sheet

[9] http://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/black-people-more-likely-be-stopped-cops-study-finds-n616546

[10] http://www.civilrights.org/equal-opportunity/fact-sheets/african-americans.html?referrer=https://www.google.com.ph

[11] Galatians 3:28

Photos:

Confederate Flag Rally at Stone Mountain Park on Saturday, 8/1/2015 – John Ramspott (CC license)

Dirty General Lee – CJ Sorg (CC license)

 
 

1 Comment

  1. Allen Johnson says:

    This is one of the most poignant things I've read in a long time. Sharing it widely.

 
 
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