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Flag debate continues

July 12, 2000

Flag debate continues



Fed up after years of efforts by the NAACP to remove the Confederate flag from all government buildings, defenders of the "Stars and Bars" came to protest that ongoing effort this past Sunday at the civil rights group's national convention in Baltimore. What both sides said was predictable, but it doesn't really move the nation where it needs to go.

The NAACP's opposition to the display of the Confederate flag is understandable. No honest person with any real knowledge of history can fail to acknowledge that the preservation of slavery was one of the principal doctrines of the Confederacy. To many black people, the flag of a nation dedicated to keeping their ancestors enslaved is just as abhorrent as the swastika - the symbol used by the German Nazi Party - is to people of Jewish ancestry.

That said, however, let's assume that the NAACP effort to bar the display of the Confederate flag from government buildings is 100 percent successful.

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Yes, that would be an acknowledgment by the governments involved that a symbol that is hurtful to a large percentage of their citizens shouldn't be shoved in their faces. But would it change the way that anyone thinks about race?

We fear that it would not, and that the flags that are on display now in government buildings would only be removed to private property, where they still might offend citizens of color. The problem would be the same one the nation has faced since the passage of the landmark civil-rights legislation in the 1960s - some citizens have accepted racial equality as the law of the land without accepting it in their hearts.

What America needs is not some legal contest over symbols, but a real dialogue about race, in which some citizens might acknowledge that honoring the past shouldn't require causing others pain, while others might acknowledge that not everyone who fought for the Confederacy was a slave-holding monster.

That would be a beginning, but unfortunately we are not there yet.

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