It’s so easy to get rid of a symbol. Take it down. Throw it away. Burn it. Paint over it. Destroy it. Dismantle it. Smash it. It’s much much more difficult to get rid of an ideology.
The travel show that I saw this morning happened to feature a Catholic church that had been re-purposed by the Reformers – it’s walls had been painted over, covering all fresco images of various saints, it’s stained glass had mostly been broken in (except for the one that they couldn’t quite reach), it’s statues and symbols had been taken out and smashed – all centuries ago. One wonders why they didn’t go all the way and burn the whole place down, but at least their reluctance to do so spared the architecture of the church. Still, for all that effort, people still believe in the Catholic tradition as well as the Reformed tradition to this very day.
So the matter of the flags cannot simply be resolved by taking them down and destroying them. The ideology behind them will endure in the hearts and minds even when all symbols have been erased. That is what must be reached. If one’s heart and mind can be won to a cause, than no symbol opposing it can impede it’s message or progress. People can be taught to be afraid. People can be taught to be disrespectful. People can be taught to be selfish. But encouraging people to to fight their fears, respect absolutely everyone, and be selfless is a much more difficult task.
“I wish it were as easy to stop hating as it was to start.” – Chakotay, ST:VOY, “Nemesis”
Absolutely everything is an opportunity to learn from something. If we erased every sign of human mistreatment or massacres from the record books, then we would not be aware of just how far we have come or how much further we have yet to go. I think we will always have to fight ourselves to choose the high road. That also means that we will have to choose to make an effort to get to know all sorts of people who are not just like us. Ultimately, taking down flags isn’t going to fix a problem that rooted in what we believe about each other.
Admittedly, in some places taking down the flag might very well be the first step to winning the hearts and minds of the people or to begin the conversation about where to go from there. The trick is to not forget the history has taken place to get us from there to here. We can’t just take down a flag, pat ourselves on the backs for our outstanding effort, and carry on as if nothing had happened. There has to be a next step, and a step after that, and a step after that.
I really wish I could tell you what that looks like, but you see, I live in a county that is between 90-95% Caucasian. I don’t live where racial issues are outside my doorstep. I do live where race issues are ‘somebody else’s problem’ and that’s my problem. To get these sleepy cities and towns on board with doing something to make things fairer for everyone else. What that next step for us will look totally different than it would in other areas. I’d love to see genuine cultural exchange – something to help us understand each other’s experiences and support one another as we move into a changing world. We also need to challenge the stereotypes that television tends to present to us as normalcy.
Most importantly, I have to get over my fear about talking about race. It’s true, I don’t know what I’m talking about. But I also know that I won’t learn anything if I ignore racial issues. I do know that seeing it as ‘somebody else’s problem’ does all of us more harm than good.
Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. – 1 John 4:20