WASHINGTON — You can turn Virginia’s government blue. You can make Charlottesville unwelcome for the white supremacists who showed up in 2017. You can say all the right things about the Commonwealth leaving its racist past behind for good.
What you can’t change are those nooks and crannies of the state where change either comes embarrassingly slow or not at all. What you can’t change are the hearts and minds of folks who behave as though they still want Richmond to be the capital of the Confederacy; folks like members of the Franklin County School Board in the southern part of the state.
Their one African American board member sought to bar students from wearing the Confederate flag on school property, where 80% of the almost 7,000 students are white and the Stars and Bars are often a daily fashion choice.
"For black people, the flag says you’re not welcome," Penny Edwards Blue said. "It means . . . lynching, it means you do not have rights. It absolutely harms the learning environment and it needs to go."
Her seven other peers on the council rejected her proposal in January.
You can’t make up Superintendent Mark Church’s reasoning when he said the Confederate ban isn’t needed because "most" students don’t find it upsetting.
"A little Rebel flag on a jacket?" Church said. "It’s not a significant issue."
Memo to Mr. Church: You put racism up to a vote in this country, racism wins every time.
Do you know there are people still alive in Virginia who remember when a white man could not marry a black woman, because until the 1967 landmark Loving vs. Virginia Supreme Court case the state didn’t allow interracial marriage?
Do you know one of the most visible landmarks on the state's largest, contiguous freeway -- hard off Interstate 95 by Stafford -- is an 80-foot Stars & Bars flag, waving as freely and proudly as it did in the early 1860s when the ultimate cause for businessmen in the South was ensuring slavery continued?
Labeling large swaths of a state racist doesn’t do anything but get folks' hackles up and make them grow more defensive.
Bottom line, not everyone who wears or publicly displays a Confederate flag has sinister intentions. There are prideful people who feel strongly about their southern heritage, and they feel this is part of it.
But to those folks, I’d ask them to consider a thought: just because something is personally nostalgic and sentimental to you doesn’t mean it can’t harm or hurt someone else. And when a chunk of the population around you tells you that, why not take that flag off or take it down and put it in your basement, out of human decency, out of making the educational experience for all children of the Commonwealth a comfortable and safe one?
If people like Mark Church can’t do that, then maybe it’s not just about state’s rights and southern pride. Maybe your need to preserve the right to wear the Confederate flag says something more sinister about you than you want to admit.
Agree or disagree, I’d love to hear your take. I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org or MikeWiseGuy on Twitter. You can also hit #TheQandA up with any questions at any time at TheQandA@wusa9.com.