Editor, Mr. Calderone, even if “Rebel flag not a symbol of slavery” (Coastal Courier, letter to the editor by Len Calderone, July 26) was not your title, it was indeed your message, so it is imperative that I reacquaint you with the definition of “symbol.” According to Merriam-Webster, “symbol” is defined as:
• Something that stands for or suggests something else by reason of relationship, association, convention or accidental resemblance;
• An object or act representing something in the unconscious mind that has been repressed;
• An act, sound or object having cultural significance and the capacity to excite or objectify a response.
Thus, what an object symbolizes is purely subjective. In other words, symbolism is relative to one’s own perspective, history and experience. For instance, tree branches with no leaves might symbolize autumn for most, but for a child whipped with a “switch,” tree branches with no leaves might symbolize pain and suffering.
I have no issue with your assertion that the Confederate flag is “no more than a battle flag” because I would expect that opinion from a self-described Northerner whose ancestors were in Sicily at the time of the Civil War. And it is an opinion, not an indisputable fact.
I take offense, however, with your accusation that those of us who see the Confederate flag as a symbol of slavery are “troublemakers” who “didn’t study history.” Whereas your predecessors were overseas, my ancestors’ blood, sweat and tears soaked the soil of the South before, during and after the Civil War. Whereas you casually state, “Slavery was a minor issue at the time,” this American tragedy was anything but minor to those who were forced to endure it. For me, the Confederate flag symbolizes hate and terrorism toward black people in this country. I am reminded of the lynchings, floggings, rape and overall degradation that my ancestors experienced in the South. These experiences have been relayed to me through oral and written history. Like some other members of society, I was offended by the South’s “rebel flag” hanging above the grounds of the South Carolina Capitol. (No pun intended.)
Every time I hear a Jew complain about the Nazi flag, I can become annoyed and choose to enlighten the world with the fact that the swastika has an extensive history. It was used at least 5,000 years before Adolf Hitler designed the Nazi flag. The word “swastika” comes from the Sanskrit “svastika,” which means “good fortune” or “well-being.” I can choose to point out this history as a way of invalidating what the swastika symbolizes for others. After all, my family was in the American South at the time, and I grew up in sunny California. But I will not. It is my more-complete understanding of history, my compassion for humanity and my humility that keep my mouth shut on what the swastika represents to others who might be offended by it. My ancestors did not have to die in German concentration camps — nor do I have to be Jewish — to get it.
For me, the Confederate flag is a symbol of slavery. It may not be within you to understand that. But do understand that you are not the authority on the matter. By definition, my perspective is intellectual. Through experience, my perspective is validated. And as a result of history, my perspective is justified.
My fellow citizen and Georgian, humility is a virtue.