I love the Deep South. Dominant SEC football and mostly meh basketball. Pork and chicken barbecue with vinegar and white sauces. A culture that celebrates food, hospitality, and storytelling. An incredibly diverse array of music traditions. The Gulf, plains, rolling hills, rivers, and forests. Even the storms; deep torrential downpours and artillery show lightning. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t know that about me, and woe unto the poor individual who gets me going on Alabama football.
But there are some things I don’t love. The Deep South is home to crippling inequality, high rates of broken families, poor education, and (as highlighted by this week) a destructive ongoing relationship with white supremacy. Even those who don’t believe its sinful tenets can be swept along in its prideful current. Following the Civil Rights Movement, racism’s adapted ability to hide under the surface makes it far too easy to deny its enormous spread.
That’s why I’ve always loved Leslie Knope, Amy Poehler’s character on Parks and Recreation. A determined and hopeful deputy director of her local parks department, Leslie’s love for Pawnee, Indiana, knows no bounds. She loves the scenery, local businesses, culture, and even the insane citizens who manage to turn every town forum into a trip down the rabbit hole. Leslie knows everything there is to know about Pawnee, literally writing the book on the town. Because of that, she also knows things that aren’t so lovable about Pawnee. A history of oppressing minorities and women. Ongoing tension with the native people of the area. Pawnee’s poor funding, lackluster facilities, and raccoon infestation as compared to neighboring Eagleton. The Sweetums candy factory’s willingness to spread poor health for profit. Sexist, opportunistic, and corrupt local officials. Despite all this and more, Leslie Knope truly loves Pawnee.
I really get Leslie Knope. She is someone who can see the problems in a place, name them out loud, and even fight against them not simply despite love for a place but because of it.
My love for the Deep South doesn’t just make me love what is lovable, but also makes me want to make the most I can of the region that has meant so much to me. When I look at the Confederate Battle Flag, I know we can do better. When I see that flag, I am reminded of a country dead in history and dead in sin whose “foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition” according to the Vice President of the Confederacy, and no amount of revision and romance about heroism or standing up to tyranny can wash that away. When I see that flag I remember that it was designed to represent the CSA’s military in its fight to maintain this inequality, and that this same flag was suddenly revived roughly a century later as a symbol for the fight against desegregation and civil rights.
To my fellow Southerners, let’s take down the flag. Many of our families taught us to be better than this, teaching us to love and welcome our neighbors with a smile and something delicious from the kitchen. Our Lord Jesus Christ taught us to be better, welcoming all as He welcomes us. And that welcome is incompatible with hatred. As Russell Moore writes, “The cross and the Confederate flag cannot co-exist without one setting the other on fire.” Even our homeland itself has taught us to be better. The Confederate Battle Flag is far too drenched in blood and sin to be remade into an appropriate symbol for such a great place and greater people. It may be a symbol, but it is not merely a symbol. It means something, just as the act of taking it down means something. Let’s send the clear message that we don’t have to cling to something so ugly to show pride and joy for where we’re from. Let’s send the clear message to those who refuse to change that they can’t hold us back. Let’s love our home with symbols that aren’t built on the backs of our brothers and sisters. Let’s take down the flag.