Flags of Their Fathers

White flag waving on the wind. Put your own text

Last week, 21 year old Dylann Roof left his home near Columbia, South Carolina and drove to Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.  When he arrived, he entered and sat along with State Senator, Rev. Clementa Pinckney for their Wednesday Night Bible Study.  When the Bible Study had ended and as the group began to disband, Roof pulled out a .45 caliber firearm and shot to death Rev. Pinckney along with eight other individuals before departing the church and fleeing the state.  Within the next 14 hours, Dylann Roof was found just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina and arrested for the murder of Sharonda Collins-Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, Daniel L. Simmons, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Susie Jackson and Clementa Pinckney.

In the days since, there has been a great deal of conversation about Dylann Roof’s motivations and reasonings, mainly of which made clear by Dylann Roof himself on his car in his home and through his social media.  Dylann was an unapologetic racist and like most racist brandished a symbol that was in line with his beliefs.  That symbol, known as the “Confederate Flag” is the same flag being flown in front of the South Carolina Capitol building.  Calls to have it removed from the premises, which has been going on for decades have intensified for those that oppose, while others have simply dodged the question, ignored it’s power and symbolism by saying it’s removal won’t fix anything or have even taken a tact as many Republican candidates for President have taken and ironically claimed it to be a “state’s rights” issue saying it has no bearing on their running for President.(I mean of course it doesn’t.  It isn’t like they’re looking for African-American support afterall, right?)  Mainly however, the resistance against the flag’s removal comes from those who insist on it being a symbol of their heritage and those who oppose it need to be educated about it’s history.

Well, courtesy of Your Friendly Neighborhood Black Man, allow me to educate you about this particular flag’s history.

154 years ago, after the election of Abraham Lincoln won the November 1860 on a campaign that opposed the expansion of slavery, the seven states in the lower south of the United States voted for succession and entered into an unrecognized confederation adopted in February of 1861.  A month later, German/Prussian artist Nicola Marschall created a flag for this Confederacy known as the “Stars and Bars”.  The flag he created was the first flag recognized by the Confederate States of America.  The flag he created bared a striking resemblance to the original flag of the United States created some 90 years prior.

Confederate_StarsandBars_Flag

The picture above is the ACTUAL Confederate Flag, also known as the “Stars and Bars”.  The representation that most now associate with the Confederate flag is something else.  It’s genesis is in the Confederacy army of Northern Virginia.  Army divisions typically have their own flags to signify the specific unit apart from others.  General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia brandished a square(not rectangular) flag, which was never the official flag of the Confederacy.

battle flag original

As the Civil War commenced and the Army of Northern Virginia had some early successes, many southerns began to adopt their flag for other purposes.  One of those purposes was for a redesign of the Confederacy’s new flag designed by WIlliam Thompson, known as the “Stainless Banner”.  This new flag took use of the Army of Northern Virginia’s battle flag and placed it in the corner of a all white flag.  Purposely made that way, Thompson referred to his flag as the “White Man’s Flag” because it was to symbolize the “supremacy of the white man.”

secondnationalflagdecal

This flag would last until a month prior to the end of the Civil War where it was replaced by a variant that included a single solid vertical bar on the far right side.

confed3

Naturally when the war was ended, use of these three flags ended as did the rebellion that officially used them.  However within the years following and the adoption of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, resistance to the Union continued, this time without the sanction of law with the exclusive intent to maintain the way of life prior to the end of war.  This meant a lower class of citizenry of Black Americans in the southern United States.  Terrorism was often employed by those who resisted which used tools such as the white mask and sheets of the Ku Klux Klan and a rectangular version of the Northern Virginia battle flag rejected from use prior to the Civil War.  These tools were used specifically to terrorize Black Americans from voting, running for office, buying property and several other aspects of life in the American south.  Over the next 100 years, the Virginia battle flag became a symbol that carried a singular meaning to Black Americans, which had nothing to do with heritage, but everything to do with hate.  The ONLY heritage it has been used to represent was with the Ku Klux Klan, the White Citizens Council and others resisting racial equality and carrying out violence in the name of fear, hate and terror.  In fact, in April of 1961, in commemoration of the Centennial of the first shots fired of the Civil War in Charleston, South Carolina, the South Carolina House of Representatives voted to place the flag on top of it’s state capitol building where it stayed for the next 40 years.

in 2000, lead by the efforts of Governor Jim Hodges, the South Carolina Senate and House of Representatives compromised on a deal to remove the flag from on top the State Capitol.  Retiring the rectangular version of the flag, the original Army of Northern Virginia Battle Flag was placed at a monument to Confederate Fallen in front of the Capitol building.


That is the official history of the “Confederate Flag”.  Now, apart from the paradox of South Carolina’s willfully displaying a Northern Virginia flag, opinions of the flag have remained strong.  A Pew Research Poll conducted in 2011 found that while 9% had a positive reaction to the flag, a more overwhelming 30% had a “negative reaction” and since the African American population is only 13%, it can be surmised that more white Americans have a “negative reaction” to the flag than those that have a “positive reaction”.  Meanwhile, the flag is nearly universally offensive to Black America.  With this being the case, for individuals to take a ambivalent stance or at best, hands-off approach at it’s display, particularly of those seeking to represent the vast majority of Americans that care not for it, is at best a cop-out and at worse a gross negligence of tacit acceptance for something that shouldn’t be displayed in any sort of official capacity.

Will removing the flag from it’s place in front of the State Capitol solve the racist attitudes held by the likes of Dylann Roof or others that reject racial equality?  No, but neither did the 13th Amendment, 14th Amendment, 15th Amendment, the Brown vs Topeka Decision, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or anything else since.  Yet there are those that insist racism is in its last throws.  The defeat of Nazi Germany and the removal of their swastika did not end anti-semitism.  However, the flag was removed.  Now the only place you’ll see it is coindidently flying beside the Virginia battle flag flown by those like Dylann Roof.  Realize this, he is 21 years old.  He was born in 1994.  Not 1894.  He waved the flag of hate and racism proudly.  The same flag flown in front of South Carolina’s State Capitol.  The same flag many claim it’s for their heritage.  That heritage has been hijacked and it is now a symbol for hate.  Why anyone would willfully want that symbol to continue to represent them and their heritage knowing the message it sends is beyond my abilities to understand.  Residents of states like South Carolina and Mississippi have a long conversation ahead of them.  Removing the flag will not end the conversation of racism.  However, the conversation can hardly begin until it is.

It is past time for serious people to stop with the tacit acceptance of a racist flag being waved and raise the white flag instead.

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Meet Your Friendly Neighborhood… White Woman?!

rachel dolezal pic

Anyone remember that book “Black Like Me”?  How about the movie starring lengendary actor James Whitmore of the same name?  Of course, those of us from the 1980s generation will undoubtedly remember C. Thomas Howell’s “Soul Man”, which was about a white student pretending to be black to qualify for a black only Harvard scholarship.  Well from the makers of those zany stories comes The Curious Case of Rachel Dolezal!  If you’re reading this, I’m sure you’ve heard by now that last week, the parents of the Spokane Washington NAACP President, Ruthanne and Lawrence Dolezal told a reporter that their daughter, Rachel is not black as she is believed, but is white.  Today, it was announced that Rachel Dolezal has resigned her position with the NAACP Chapter in Spokane.  Since then, the internet has gone afire over her apparent transgressions.  From absolute shock to utter disdain, disgust and hatred for who she is and what she’s done.  My initial reactions were lukewarm at best.  I read it and said “Oh, a white girl is the president of a NAACP branch(that’s nice)…  So, what’s going on with Caitlin Jenner? And did she help those two (actual) criminals escape up in New York?”  Clearly, there are more pressing matters in the world.  However, the more I looked into the story, the more I looked into who Rachel Dolezal is, the more I became fascinated with her history, what she did and has done and ultimately, I’ve become frustrated with the reactions of those who shame her.

So who is Rachel Dolezal?  Naturally if you ask Facebook or Twitter it will tell you “Liar”, “Bitch”, “Fraud”, “Mentally Ill”… let’s see… “Delusional”, “Con” and “Criminal”, among select other descriptors.  However, when I actually looked at this and thought about it, I had to look it up myself.  So, without further adieu, feel free to read who she actually is:

Professor Rachel Doelzal is a professor of African Studies at Eastern Washington University.  She has a Master’s Degree from Howard University and has taught African and African-American Art History, African History, African-American Culture, as well as “The Black Woman’s Struggle” at EWU as well as North Idaho College.  Her passion for civil and human rights has lead her to work in rural Mississippi advocating for equal rights and community development, coordinating cultural events, panel discussions and trainings on Human Rights as well.  She is the former Director of Education at the Human Rights Education Institute and is a licensed Diversity Trainer and Human Rights Consultant working with businesses and organizations on inclusivity, diversity and fair practices.  Most recently, she has been appointed by the Mayor of Spokane, Washington to serve as a police commissioner for the Office of the Police Ombudsman, to oversee fairness and equity in law enforcement.

Clearly, Rachel Dolezal is educated, accomplished and has not knee-deep, not waist-deep, but literally so deeply involved, invested and ingrained into the African-American community, she is hair-deep(see what I did there… pun) in the African-American Community.  Her work and advocacy in helping and advancing the goals and desires of the black community is quite extensive.  That is no way fraudulent.  To be perfectly honest, she has done more to promote our issues, agenda and experiences than a multitude of others IN the black Community alone.  As compared to others outside of our race, she is a needle in a haystack.  Too frequently, when discussing issues of the black experience in America, mainstream(white) audiences are ambivalent at best.  Over the last few years, I have used Your Friendly Neighborhood Black Man, as well as Facebook and other forms of media to tell the story of the effects of what happens in Ferguson, Missouri, Long Island, Stamford, Florida and now Baltimore, Maryland, McKinney, Texas and Fredricksburg, Virginia and what black folks have been experiencing for years.  Sometimes people listen, most times they don’t.  But we share outrages on social media of these happenings because we want a blind world to wake up and look what’s happening and has been happening to us in our lives.  Most mainstream(white) audiences don’t know.  But then again, there are those that not only do know, but work as much as I do to open up eyes, minds and hearts of the world around us.  Rachel Dolezal has done just that.

Yet, there is the idea and belief by many of her blatant and perceived deception of lying to the NAACP, Eastern Washington staff, and city of Spokane about her ethnicity.  Her parents identify as white(Czech, German and Native American at least).  Rachel Herself, according to her Twitter account, identifies herself as “Transracial” or at the very least multi-ethnic.  However, as uncovered by the fraudulently named “The Smoking Gun”(no one named Gunn works there), she had a suit opened against Howard University, a historically Black College, of “discriminating against her as a white woman”.  The suit was dismissed, however with the suit she contended that Howard was “permeated with discriminatory intimidation, ridicule and insult.”  That’s how she felt… being judged as a white woman.  However over the last decade plus she has been living her life as not a white woman.  Why?  Why would someone consciously elect to forfeit their identity as a white woman and the perceived or apparent advantaged it may have to be someone who is often discriminated against themselves?  So the question remains, did she lie about who she is?  Did she lie about being black or lie about being white?

First of all, it should be stated that most are confused on the matter.  The NAACP, in a letter of support stated that “one’s racial identity is NOT a qualifying criteria OR disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership.  Moreover, anyone remember what Equal Opportunity Laws are?  Affirmative Action?  Anyone?  Contrary to what people believe it to be, what it actually says is that hiring, accepting or otherwise judging one’s quality based on race, class gender or religion is illegal.  That goes BOTH ways.  Discrimination is illegal.  Anyway you slice it.  That said, did she misrepresent herself as a black woman?  Well, according to her application with the city of Spokane, it isn’t that simple.  Take a look:

Rachel Dolezal Identity

Apparently, she did admit to being white.  That wasn’t an omission.  However, she did also check black, American Indian and Two or More Races.  While I can’t qualify this for every single time she’s been formally asked the question, it goes to show her motives, just as much as her experiences at Howard.  To better qualify this, you would best look at her history, education and worldview.  While her parents clearly identify themselves as white, growing up with Rachel as their biological daughter, the Dolezal’s adopted African-American children and according to Ruthanne Dolezal, that was the genesis of Rachel’s racial identification.  Some want to claim Rachel to be “fake” or “acting black”, but if she grew up with her actual brothers and sisters who identify themselves as black, how do we not know that her identity is shared with her family?  Moreover, she has an extensive history of work and education in African AND African American studies and Cultural studies on top of that.  Additionally, if you’re familiar with me, you know there’s a piece recited by the great Smokey Robinson I’m often found quoting about being a Black America and what that means.  He talks about the perceptions of what makes someone black and what is believed to be black.  In it he explains:  “So if we’re going to go back, let’s go all the way back, and if Adam was black and Eve was black, then that kind of makes it a natural fact that everybody in America is a African American.”  He goes on to say “And if one drop of black blood makes you black like they say, then everybody’s black anyway.”  We know that such strata was used to judge who is or who is not black in American history.  If you were half black or a quarter black or such, you were black.  Whether by choice or by actual genetics, society judged you as black.  At this point and reading her background and experiences, agree or disagree, I’m pretty sure Rachel Dolezal adheres to that belief.  As familiar as she is with African culture and history and how much it has influenced American culture and history, I think she really believe her race is at best cannot be singularly confined to just being white.

So did she lie about being black?  Maybe.  According to your or I she might have.  According to her own belief, I’m not so sure.  Racial identities are not always as they are.  I hear a lot of people always question President Obama’s racial identity, why would he consider himself to be black when his mother is white?  Well, if we saw some random light-skinned skinny harvard professor walking down the streets of Chicago in the early 1990s, would anyone identify him as white?  No.  Just the same, if we saw that lady from the pic above walking down the streets of Spokane would anyone see her as white?  Doubtful.  Even if they did, that would still be our society’s labeling of what race she is, not hers.  If that makes her a liar, then so be it.  But to be honest, I’ll freely admit that more times can I count have I wished to change the name on my resume from “Jamal D. Gunn” to “J. Derrick Gunn”.  I’m sure others have felt similarly.  Is that a lie?  Would I be doing that to gain some sort of personal advantage?  Is it possible that her experiences extending from her youth growing up in a household that was at least 50% black to her negative experiences of discrimination at Howard colored(no pun intended) her perceptions and made her feel the best way she can contribute to the education and progression of the black Community is by BEING in the black Community and living that way.  While we all would like to pretend that the Black Community itself is the beacon of racial progression and acceptance, I know better than most that white allies and progressives can be overlooked, looked at pejoratively and their efforts marginalized when helping advance our experiences and story.  I can’t even count how many times I’ve had black friends tell my white friends “What can that white girl/man tell me about being black” and they’re easily and often dismissed.  Scratch that.  I can actually, but I’m not about to pretend like it doesn’t happen.  Even on a more personal level, those of us who have dated outside of our race will find a trepidly icy reception from our family of those we want to be with.  Why is this?  Because there is still the fear that those outside of our race cannot understand, accept or otherwise relate to our lives and our story.  Maybe Rachel Dolezal lives with that fear as well.  That she won’t be accepted because she can’t possibly understand our experience or adequately relate it to others just because she’s white.  It happens.

Ultimately, the life of Rachel Dolezal is her own.  What she does to live it is her decision and her’s alone.  Not any of ours.  Can we be offended?  I suppose so.  Don’t count me among those that are.  I thought if anything we’ve learned over the last few weeks through social media, when dealing with someone’s own personal identity is to not judged who they are.  I’m not going to judge, nor can I be offended by something that doesn’t affect my life one bit.  What does offend me is the lack of attention paid and given to what many Black men and women experience day after day, life after life.  That’s real.  If Rachel Dolezal wants to share in this experience that, is quite literally, HER problem.  Her problem too maybe?  What we cannot overlook is all she has done to not just help black folks understand and accept black culture, but also a mainstream(yes, white) community that has largely paid little attention to us.  And as much as we decry and complain all the time about the ignorance of white folks, oblvious to the black experience, Rachel Dolezal is going beyond the pale(pun intended this time) to call attention to it… and I’m supposed to shame her for this?  No.  I’m sorry, I can’t do that.  She is doing something that I actually wished MORE people did, white or black.  This is a case of someone who not only is well aware of the black experience and agenda, but has supported it, taught it and has gone far(probably too far) out her way to progress it.  I’m sorry, I’m not about to shame her for it.  To be perfectly honest, there are those more likely to thank her for helping, among which you could include…

You’re Friendly Neighborhood Black Man.