Where to begin? It has been months since I have written a column — not because I didn’t have anything to say or comment on, but because I feared where my heart was coming from in what I was writing.
If there is one thing that is true of this past year when it comes to news, it’s that it has been a contentious year. I always strive to write articles that present a point of view that is well-reasoned and heart-felt. I strive to understand those who do not agree with me, and respond to their counterpoints without being dismissive or disrespectful.
In truth, I never want to write from a place of rhetorical venom, but with the hopes and prayers of encouraging and giving voice to the thoughts that I know many within our community share, but we so rarely see in the media — a reasoned and compassionate view that reflects a love for God, a love for family, and a love for this country.
With that perspective in mind, I want to write about the recent rise of removing artifacts representing our nations’ founding fathers and Confederate history. Whether it is the Confederate flag, images on Stone Mountain, statues or county murals, the fact that this is rising up as an issue to which we now have to have a “national discussion” is disturbing.
Up until maybe a year or two ago, most citizens did not give these things a second thought. Personally, I am not afraid, nor do I get angry when I see a Confederate flag. I recognize that to some people that flag does not mean they are racist or wish for us to re-engage in slavery. The flag for them represents Southern pride. The same Southern pride that we sense sitting on our front porches, drinking sweet tea, waving hi to neighbors as they walk by.
I have lived across this nation from California to New York, from Massachusetts to Florida, and there is nothing quite like living right here in Georgia. It’s the place that I want my children and grandchildren to think of as home. The Southern hospitality and relative ease of living in Georgia evolved from its history, both good and bad, but it is something that I recognize that my native-born neighbors do have a sense of pride in.
That is why it bothers me that people who have this pride are being made to feel that they should now be ashamed of their heritage. Because at the root of taking down each monument, each vestige of our (yes, “our”) history, we are sowing seeds of cultural, racial resentments.
For those who do find offense with the Confederate heritage and our nation’s founding fathers, I would ask, did they feel such intense moral outrage five years ago? If not, then why feel it now? What is it in today’s social and political climate that is stoking the flames of animosity in this regard? Could it be it is a great distraction to rile up societal unrest or advance some socio-political agenda?
Personally, I feel like debate about the flag and founding fathers is an exploitation of the Black Experience to promote further societal unrest. Because if we are truly honest with ourselves, many of these protests do not lead to those on the opposite side having greater respect or sympathy for the protesters.
Do these protests improve the lives of black families? Do they improve the condition of our predominately black communities. Often times, such unrest only makes matters worse — that’s exploitation.
Rather than focusing on things that truly matter — like how we build a strong, noble, fiscally responsible and courageous society that emphasize and honor such attributes in our young and old — we continually label and talk at each other, rather than listen and be willing to esteem our “brothers” feelings above our own.
Why can’t we look at the figures of our nation’s past and recognize that they are people of their own time, filled with flaws and virtues just like the rest of us?
If we condemn them, ought we not condemn the African chiefs who sold their rival tribesmen into slavery in the first place? Or why not condemn anyone who has ever owned slaves, such as Abraham, Isaac, and Mohammed? Ought they not be condemned along with anyone who is a Confederate sympathizer?
I ask these questions in sincerity. Essentially, my question is this: Where and when does the offense and condemnation end and we turn and take a higher road, a gracious road?
We could simply allow our history to speak to how we have grown as a nation in fulfilling the charter that was set before us. We could point our children towards a future that enables them to focus on true qualities and characteristics that matter in a person — like their integrity, their honesty, their motivation, and their compassion, rather than external features of race and socio-economic status.
While talking about such things may be engaging, gratifying, and even validating, should we not spend the majority of our “national discussions and dialogs” regarding how we can bolster and nurture the character of future generations, rather than merely advancing our political or social self-interests?
[Bonnie B. Willis is co-founder of The Willis Group, LLC, a Learning, Development, and Life Coaching company here in Fayette County and lives in Fayetteville with her husband and their five children.]