I keep thinking I've written the last word I'm going to write about Confederate Flags and what it means to people--and I keep getting more emails on the subject. I'm pretty sure this could possibly (maybe) be the last Truth about it. No promises, though. We're just going to have to see.
This was the first letter I got:
I am from South Carolina, and recently stumbled across your web site. I am astounded at how you keep getting the Nazi Swastica mixed up with the Confederate Battle Flag. My ancestor (cousin) Colonel William Porcher Miles designed the Southern flags; therefore I have taken many, many hours to study about the "War of Northern Agression".
You and I could argue the facts all year; that is exactly why I search for the actual facts as documented by the newspapers and journals of the 1861-1865 time period. If you want to know the TRUTH about our Flag and what it stands for, I suggest you simply go to your local video store and rent the 12 hour documentary by the Public Broadcasting System entitled "The Civil War". This series tells the historical truth without bias.
My family lost my great, great, grandfather John Allen Miles, 9000 acres, and our homes. His children and wife were left to starve. We are still here and know the truth about the Lincoln lies, and the propaganda crap spread by the true breeder of hate (the Federal Government), who, by the way, is now some 8 TRILLION dollars in debt. (That is about $26,000 dollars for every man woman and child in the US!!)
The Civil war was started--without a shot being fired--at a small island in Charleston Harbor called Castle Pickney. At that time, it was used by the federal government as a tax collection post. The Feds chose to raise the harbor tax from 10% to 40%, but we said "HELL NO!!" The Feds fled to fort Sumter and were later ordered to leave the South. There the first shot was fired, and so on......
A true Confederate American
Obviously, this email left me with a lot of unanswered questions. I didn't get a good feel for Mr. Miles or what sort of person he was. He seemed intelligent and educated--but the rest was a mystery.
I thought to myself, "I wish I could write this guy back--see if I can get a little better feel of him." I initially didn't want to because I didn't want to harass the guy. After all, he was kind enough to write to me--that doesn't give me the right to bother him in his home, does it? But I couldn't think of a way to write this without writing to him.
And he did write to me, didn't he?
So, I wrote him. I apologized for the entirety of the first paragraph, because I didn't want him to get the same feeling I get whenever I see another Confederate Flag email. I didn't want him thinking I was going to slap him around or anything. I was really just looking for some answers.
Some small bit of Truth, as it were.
Basically, here's what I wrote him:
When I got your email, my original intent was to write a response to it in a Truth tonight (Friday night is about the only opportunity I get to sit and write this stuff). However, it occurs to me that no matter how many responses I write to this, I still get an occasional email on it. By my way of thinking, that means I'm failing in some way. I'm missing something. I'm not getting the Whole Picture. Of all the people who've written me on this subject, you may be the most likely to bring me around because a) your viewpoint opposes mine, and b) you seem to have a valid reason to be proud of the Confederate Flag. For you, the flag is much more than a symbol of North vs. South. It's family. It's personal. Some may say this biases you a bit--but since I'm clearly biased in the other direction, I think you're exactly the person I need to talk to about this.
I'm going to ask a series of questions. The first few may not seem relevant whatsoever to the topic at hand--and maybe they're not. Feel free to ignore any questions you don't like. Mostly, I want to know where you're 'coming from,' so to speak. Obviously, a nineteen year-old without children is going to be coming from a different place than a man in his sixties with both children married and grandkids on the way.
And just so we're approaching this from even ground, I'll answer each of these questions myself as we go. This way, I don't have an unfair advantage.
I'll show you the questions in a moment--I'll put them immediately beneath his response.
Thank you for your response... You are welcome to use anything I say as you please... as long as it is what I said...LOL ...I know you understand... I am always looking to learn and understand my fellow man. My family has been in South Carolina since 1690... and even longer, I guess, because my grandmother was a Cherokee, Lilly Jumper. My answers are in bold, following yours.
I'm going to leave his answers in bold, because those are the important ones.
Age? (A range--'30-40' for example, is fine here.)
Mr. Steele: 35
Mr. Miles: 41
Mr. Steele: For three years as of 10/1/03.
Mr. Miles: For 21 years and happy anniversary to you!
This was about as far as I got before I began to realize that this guy was a Nice Guy. That's right--capital 'N' and a capital 'G.'
It gets better.
Mr. Steele: Two daughters (step--but only by law)
Mr. Miles: Yes--one son, 18, off to College
Mr. Steele: Two grandsons. See above.
Mr. Miles: no
Did you grow up with Black people?
Mr. Steele: Yes
Mr. Miles: Yes
Do you now--or have you ever--worked with Black people?
Mr. Steele: Yes
Mr. Miles: Yes
Do you have any Black acquaintances?
Mr. Steele: Yes
Mr. Miles: Yes
Do you have any Black friends that you invite over for dinner, or play cards with on a Saturday night? (Note: a 'No' answer here doesn't necessarily weigh against you. Sometimes, it just happens that way.)
Mr. Steele: No--but I don't have any White friends I invite over for
dinner or play cards with on a Saturday night, either.
Mr. Miles: Same here... We generally eat out then...Just my wife and I
Ever dated a Black woman? (Note: a 'No' answer doesn't necessarily weigh against you here, either. Just looking to see where you're coming from.)
Mr. Steele: Yes--but this isn't grounds for morale superiority.
Mr. Miles: Yes I was 20 and she was 19, her parents objected to our relationship, she was also a co-worker
Have you ever discussed racism with a Black person before?
Mr. Steele: Yes.
Mr. Miles: Yes
Have you ever been held in a Full-Nelson and had your face kicked repeatedly because you were White before? (Note: variations on this theme are acceptable.)
Mr. Steele: Yes. (Long story ... and perhaps fodder for a future Truth.)
Mr. Miles: I faced that for weighing 265 pounds in the forth grade... I was the fat kid with no desk to fit, and all alone at recess... with the occasional bloody brawl... I had to get tough and tell a lot of jokes to finally be accepted...
Ow. I'd always considered myself a heavy kid. Right about now I'm considering myself a Great Big Baby for considering myself a heavy kid. I'm 6'5 and I was getting heavier than I liked, and I still fell ten pounds short of that mark at my heaviest.
This is just a guess, but I'll bet Mr. Miles comes closer to the 7' mark today than I do (unless he's 7'8, in which case I actually fall closer to 7' than he does, mathematically). 265 lbs in the 4th grade isn't just heavy--it's big. I'm thinking this guy was an unmovable linebacker in high school.
Do you display the Confederate Flag in your home, at your place of work, or on any vehicle you drive?
Mr. Steele: If I did, I'd feel damned silly about my last couple of Confederate Flag Truths, wouldn't I?
Mr. Miles: Yes I do... I enjoy teaching people the reason I do. And the ones who listen have become good friends, all races of people.
Have you discussed the Confederate Flag with any of your Black friends/acquaintances?
Mr. Steele: No
Mr. Miles: Yes. I hate a lie, so I love getting people to search out the truth for themselves.
Do they understand--after these discussions--that the Confederate Flag is a matter of family pride, and doesn't have anything to do with any prejudice?
Mr. Steele: n/a
Mr. Miles: Some have and some refuse to listen, and, unfortunately, hate to read or watch educational programing.
Do you consider yourself a person prejudiced against Black people?
Mr. Steele: No
Mr. Miles: No. Every man should be judged by the content of his character and not the color of his skin...MLK jr. I have always lived with that statement in my heart.
Do you consider yourself a person prejudiced against any people?
Mr. Steele: No
Mr. Miles: No. However, to be truthful with you, I believe that if any race of people chooses to live here, they should speak American, and pay taxes like the rest of us are required to. Yes I will come out and say it--this is America, not Mexico...
Yeah ... I can't hold this against him. I'm not real proud of the fact that I don't speak any language besides English because this country is a big-ole-melting pot full of foreigners and this country is full of the descendants of foreigners and my lack of a second language only limits myself. However, I must not feel too strongly about it because I have yet to get off my ass and learn a second language.
And I guess there's not a real strong need to defend non-English speakers here because, hey, they're not reading this page, are they?
Do you have anyone in your family who you consider prejudiced?
Mr. Steele: Yes. I had an uncle (now deceased)--who I considered a dear, sweet man at the time--tell me that he was offended by an episode of Golden Girls because 'doves shouldn't mate with crows.' I have other members of my family who will occasionally say things--and use specific words--because they think it's funny or shocking. Since I'm fairly outspoken on the subject (clearly), they usually say this with knowledge that I'm in the room--and then fail to meet my gaze.
Mr. Miles: Yes My Great uncle was a grand Dragon and Imperial Wizard in the Klan, so I learned all about the hate and injustice of which you speak! I am sure that God has a special place for him with that fallen angel called Satan in Hell!! He had the biggest funeral I've ever seen. Limos from everywhere in the country. It was 1979 and I was shocked! It honestly compared with the burial of Elvis. Sad and funny...But true!!
His family bigot definitely Trumps the hell out of mine.
Have you ever heard the n-word in a space that you consider 'home?'
Mr. Steele: Yes. See above.
Mr. Miles: I have never given the southern slang word much thought...My black friends in school used it more than anyone, when talking with each other... My black friend who has a home repair service, had his crew replace my bathroom floor recently and that was their favorite word when something was done wrong by the other......
Have you ever used the n-word?
Mr. Steele: I've spoken it--in the context of making fun of bigots. I've known a few. Immediately after watching Training Day, there was a powerful temptation to use it as a term of affection. Denzel used the phrase, 'My n-word,' several times in just that context, and I'm one of those annoying guys who constantly uses movie-quotes. I stayed away from this one, though. Out of my mouth, it wouldn't come across the way I intended. Maybe ten or twenty years from now.
Mr. Miles: I know how through the teachings of our current leaders, it is a no no for a white person to use the southern slang for Negro.... as we now say, the "N" word so I try not to use it... I must say that as the Booster Club President for 4 years at my son's 4-A High School I was initally shocked when the black students reffered to me as their favorite "Nigga." Again, funny, but true!! I loved then and still shed tears because I miss those kids!!
Didn't I tell you it would get better? Didn't I tell you this was a Nice Guy? I might even have to revise it to NIce GUy. Even that might not do the trick. I think he may even be a NICe GUY. Possibly even a NICE GUY.
Do you feel that Black people are equal to White people?
Mr. Steele: Yes. And we're both equal to yellow people and red people. And blue people. And red people. And green people. Yeah ... I don't really feel that way about green people. They're losers. I'm just afraid that Kermit and Yoda will get together and kick my butt.
Mr. Miles: I agree. Of course, there is good and bad in all races.
Has any Black person ever given you the impression that a prominent display of the Confederate Flag didn't make them feel as though every white person in the immediate proximity didn't feel as though the concept of black people as property was a-okay?
Mr. Steele: Yes. I did read an article by a black man who said that the Confederate Flag didn't mean slavery to him. He felt that it was only about Pride in the South. That's my only one. I haven't met any black people personally who are okay with it. But they could be out there. The topic doesn't come up much.
Mr. Miles: I have the flag on my car, and as I said before, I am willing to talk about it any time. I must say that the Federal Flag, the flag our country currently flies, ("Old Glory"), was the top choice of the Ku Klux Klan 85% of the time, according to all of the compiled photographic evidence.
I honestly didn't know this. Interesting fact.
And I have to say, now that I read it over again the wording of the question seems a bit hostile, doesn't it? I sent all the questions at once, you see. I had no idea that by this point, Mr. Miles would be coming across as this NICE of a GUY. If I'd sent the questions one at a time, I probably wouldn't have sounded this hostile.
Arnold Schwarzenegger's father fought for the Nazis. Do you feel it's wrong for him to call Hitler a villain, given the fact that his father fought on Hitler's behalf?
Mr. Steele: No, I don't. The beliefs of the father don't necessarily pass on to the son. Besides, he's been in the entertainment industry for decades. He's met more than a few Jewish people--and they've been reasonably nice to him, or else he likely wouldn't still be in the entertainment industry.
Mr. Miles: Ah Mr Steele do I detect a hint of Anti-Semitism there?? LOL Just Joking!! I understand what you are saying. Hitler was brilliant, then went insane. Germany was bankrupt and her people were devided and starving. That is why they were so hungry for a strong leader i.e., Hitler. He promised them success and world pride again. They followed him either voluntarily or, later, by force. Then America spent billions rebuilding the war torn country.
So I believe Mr. Schwarzenegger has every right to call Hitler a villain, despite what his father might have done. After all, if a politician were judged based on the discrepancies of his/her relatives, who would ever get elected?
I want you to notice something else about what Mr. Miles wrote--misspellings were minimal, and grammar was excellent. His writing isn't clean because I went back and fixed it because he was a NICE GUY. His writing was clean because it was clean. Just wanted to point that out, because I was concerned that the Casual Reader might feel that I'd shown him bias.
Where does this leave us?
My questions were cleverly designed (very, very cleverly designed--feel free to agree) to reveal a flaw in his character. Not only did they fail to reveal a flaw, Buddy Miles' true character shone through like a beacon. I like very few people (it's true--read some more Truths if you don't believe me), and at the end of a bunch of questions Mr. Miles has convinced me that he's a NICE GUY, in all caps.
I'm beaten. I'm trumped. I'm usurped. I have no choice but to admit that the Confederate Flag does not mean a racist south to all people. In fact, to at least one very good person, it means a great deal more.
Thank you, Mr. Miles. If not for your email, I'm sure I'd be spending yet another evening trashing that flag.
I've linked those other Confederate Flag Truths to each other, and to this one. In fact, this is where is starts, if you missed the others. I'm all about making it as easy as possible.
Shortly after I received that letter, I received this one.
Dear Whoever you are,
Hello! I am a sixteen year old girl who has grown up in Lake City Florida all of my life and i recently read the hatemail that you received regarding the confederate flag. I don't agree at all with the way that he wrote his letter but i can understand where he is coming from because I, myself display the confederate flag with pride. I don't consider myself to be racist, I have friends from all different races and ethnic backgrounds. I do not think that it is right for people to judge that everyone who displays the confederate flag is a racist white hick because seven times out of ten this is not the truth behind the matter but of course there will always be the few who do display the confederate flag because they are racist but you shouldnt judge everyone by those few, you yourslef said this. All of us are goin to be judged when we die, can't we all try to get along a little better until then...My God people, read a Bible!
Already convinced, ErRiN, and it's a good thing, too. If I had to explain to Mrs. Steele that a sixteen year old girl changed my views on the Confederate Flag ... well ... that would be where the explanation began.
I also received this letter:
I honestly have a hard time understanding just what confederacy is or was, and why it is very important to the South. I am from South Carolina, so it is embedded very deeply in the soil. I am concerned more about my friends that insist on wearing this rebel flag and being proud of whatever they are. From what I understand, it is a form of government that existed decades ago and was Pro-South and Pro-Slavery. There is only so much the books can say, but the people that wear and fly these things are much more aggressive and uninformed than ever. If anything should be on anybody's truck or back, it should be the U.S. flag. Please, enlighten me.
Yeah! James is right! To Hell with those Confederate Flag flyers! To Hell with ...
James, I'm just going to have to hope that you were as convinced by Buddy Miles as I was. I'm fairly confident you will be.
And Buddy ... if you're still carrying around that much weight, write me back. We need to get that off you. We lost John Candy while he was way-too-young. We can't afford to lose you too. We need you to live as long as possible. I know that all sorts of things can happen--but if we lose you just because you were too heavy for your height, I'll feel personally responsible.
And we can't have that, because when Mr. Steele feels personally responsible, he gets pissed.
Given my talent for transference, we can't have me getting pissed. Lord knows who I'd take it out on.
At this point, I think we need to hear from black people. Sorry--I know that White America is uncomfortable with that term. I meant 'African Americans.' What I really want is for African Americans to tell me that they're comfortable with my now-changed viewpoint on the Confederate Flag. Or, I want them to tell me that they're uncomfortable with it. I want to hear from them, either way.
Future emails on the subject should start with whether you consider yourself a White Guy or a Black Guy.
I look forward to hearing from you. And if I don't hear from anyone at all, I'll assume that I finally got it right.
(Editor's Note--believe it or not, this Truth is continued freakin' again in The Truth about the Confederate Flag IV. It just goes on and on, doesn't it? Oy.)