Every time I see a Confederate flag in front of a house, I have a thought about starting a conversation with the man or woman, presumably a fellow American, who feels a need to display that thing 152 years after the Civil War.
Have not done so.
And that’s because I make quick and reasonable assumptions about the kind of reception I would get if I decided to pull over, knock on the door and question the homeowner about the flag on his porch.
I assume the question would not be appreciated. Just asking about it seems judgmental; it implies that I believe there’s something wrong with displaying the Confederate flag.
And, of course, I do. I hate the sight of it. But I don’t stop and say so because I don’t want to start trouble with a stranger. And the exercise would probably be pointless, anyway.
A person who hoists a Confederate flag on his front lawn might not be as angry and as aggressive as the white supremacists who marched on Charlottesville. But you never know, and that’s a problem. There are a lot of safe conversation starters in this country, but a Confederate flag isn’t one of them.
Still, it’s tempting to say something these days, perhaps more than ever. I can’t be the only American who wanted to share a few thoughts — one-on-one, if possible — with the owner of a Confederate flag, especially after the horror in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston in 2015, and now after Charlottesville.
I’ve decided to try a letter. Here goes.
Greetings, my fellow American:
I noticed the old battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia in front of your house, and I would like to offer a few comments about it. I respect your right to display that flag. I hope you will consider what I have to say.
I guess you know that most Americans want nothing to do with the Confederate flag. We see one on a house or car or truck and assume the worst — that the owner is a racist. We figure there’s nothing to be gained from talking to you.
So we leave it alone. We drive on by. The flag’s owner might be someone we know and even like, but we say nothing.
And, besides, this is America, and it’s none of my damned business what you do on your lawn.
But hear me out.
I bet you consider yourself a patriotic American. So do I. We all take some level of pride in this country, even with all its problems. The United States has had a lot of struggles, and it’s still struggling with our history. That flag on your lawn takes us back to one of the worst struggles of all: the great conflict that tore the nation apart more than 150 years ago.
Your Confederate flag celebrates a cause that, had it succeeded, would have meant no United States as we see it today. It would have meant more generations of slavery in the 11 Confederate States of America — cruel bondage for close to 4 million men, women and children.
Had that happened, where do you think we would be now? There would be two countries, presumably, and neither as great as the one, big country that developed into a superpower in the 20th Century.
Fortunately, the Union prevailed through the long, bloody madness of the Civil War, ending the evil of slavery.
Maybe you don’t think that was a good thing. Maybe that’s why you still fly the Confederate flag.
But look, my fellow American, this issue has been settled. The vast majority of your fellow citizens are glad the Union survived and that we have our country.
While we like to think of the United States as an exceptional nation, we have a lot of work to do. America is falling behind in many ways, including in how we treat each other.
Think of your children and grandchildren. Think of the future. How do we make progress in this country — in education, science, health, clean water, clean air, healthy food, good roads, green energy, new technology and a rising middle class — if we are not united?
That does not mean we will all agree on the way to the future. But we need to agree to treat each other with respect as we try to get there. That means everybody, no exceptions. Your children and grandchildren are living in a more diverse country, and they will be better for it. Don’t teach them fear. Teach them to be good citizens and to love their neighbors. Start by taking down that flag.
Thank you for reading this.
Your fellow American.
OK, that’s it. If you like it, feel free to use it. All you need is an address, an envelope and a stamp — preferably one featuring Lady Liberty, or the U.S. flag.