By GORDON GLANTZ
GORDONVILLE – I wouldn’t do that if you paid me a million dollars.
Who among us hasn’t used that saying?
Truth is, there is not much most of us wouldn’t do – short of something hideous and sadistic – for that kind of a payday.
But I can name two acts that my conscience would never allow, lest it cause my soul to choke.
One is to wave the Confederate flag, that of the side of the traitors, either proudly or to make some sort of a pointless point.
The other would be to take a knee during the national anthem (even though I strongly believe Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” would be a better long-term fit, but I won’t go there – even though I just did).
The only difference is that I can understand, in the abstract, why the latter act (like the black power fist, or the peace sign) – all public displays of a peaceful protest – would spur one to feel compelled.
None of those are hate speech. The Confederate flag, well, that’s another story.
The two bloodiest wars for Americans, with more than one million casualties (deaths and wounded) each were the Civil War and World War II.
If you don’t believe me, look it up. I’ll wait.
You back? OK.
It goes way beyond that, though.
It was how they died. A lot of the weaponry was no different than what was used in World War I, and a lot of the battles were fought up close and personal.
Many of the deaths were slow and painful, coming via infection after limbs were sawed off.
Then, there was the psychological toll, one that we are still calculating in fits and starts.
In some cases, the Civil War pitted brother versus brother. In many more, it was cousin versus cousin.
There were – and still are – many ways to understand what the Confederacy was fighting for, as they will tell you it was a way of life that someone else was telling them not to live and for states’ rights.
But let’s not talk falsely now. The hour is getting late.
The way of life, the states’ rights yarn, was about one thing: Slavery.
And the slaves were black, brought here in steerage from Africa for decades.
The prime source of income for the South (i.e. Confederacy) was cotton, and the slaves bled their figures raw picking cotton for, well, nothing. They were slaves. Their families were separated, sometimes when children were less than five, or they never existed as family units as all.
It would be unfair to say they were second-class citizens, as they weren’t citizens at all.
Up North, even as they also reaped the economic reward of the cotton trade, this whole centuries-old act wore so thin that a brutal and bloody war seemed inevitable.
And so it was.
I’m not sure why, in 2020, there would be any other need to display – out in the open and proudly – the Confederate flag than to pledge allegiance to racism.
But, there it is. Often waved alongside that of the Swastika flag of World War II enemy Nazi Germany, which makes even less sense (as if that were even possible).
We often see the “Don’t Tread On Me” flag, which has meant many things to many different people since the 18th century. At present, it seems to be where patriotism flows into jingoism, but not as offensive to all-out flags of hate speech – at least not yet.
It doesn’t need to be.
I was startled – and aghast – in the summer of 2016, when we took a Pennsylvania road trip.
The first stop was Gettysburg, where the seminal battle of the Civil War was fought on July 1-3 in 1863.
There were some Confederate flags there – whether or T-shirts, bumper stickers, paper weights, mugs etc. – for sale (especially on the outskirts of town). As we drove through the rest of Pennsylvania, weaving through some small towns on the way to our other destinations (Johnstown, Pittsburgh, the stupid place where the ground hog comes out once a year, etc.), I continued to see plenty of Confederate flags.
So many, whether from front porches or the back of pickup trucks, that I had to remind a much younger Sofia – and myself – that we were, in fact, still above the Mason-Dixon Line.
It was a sign – or flag – of the times.
The times of doom.
A certain entity – an entity I will neither refer to as a “man” or a “person” – was mounting what was a controversially successful bid for The White Horse, and this so-called “human” was running plays out of Hitler’s playbook by throwing chum to a staunch base fed up with a black (biracial, actually) president for two terms.
Following a route that their GPS systems first took them, which was to join Tea Parties, they made another sharp right and let their patriotism crash into a wall of jingoism.
The saying, “Make America Great Again,” was too hard – on either side – to ignore.
Against this backdrop, in the summer of 2016, Colin Kaepernick – then the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers – didn’t stand for the national anthem of a preseason game.
When asked about it, he told reporters it was in protest of how blacks were treated in the United States.
After some backlash about disrespecting veterans, which seemed a bit off-point, he began to kneel instead of sit on the bench and stare into space (poor optics, if nothing else).
Players around the league soon joined, giving the presumptive Republican candidate more red meat.
To this day, while I’m with Kaepernick on both his right to peacefully protest and the basics of his cause of racial injustice, I’m not 100 percent convinced the whole thing wasn’t a tantrum because he was bumped to No. 2 on the depth chart behind a white quarterback.
He didn’t help himself during the whole controversy by wearing socks with cartoon pigs depicted as police officers, and he should be noted that he is biologically biracial and was raised in an upper middle-class adoptive family.
One – either a person of color who has a had it tougher or a white person from the right trying to drive a truck through his argument — could successfully ask: “What does he know about it?”
However, President Obama was also biracial and raised by his white grandparents outside the ghetto walls. That didn’t stop the hate machine – including a birther movement wondering if he was a Muslim and not a Christian – from grinding its wheels.
That didn’t stop the current person who calls himself your president (not mine) to exploit it all to his advantage – including tirades against Kaepernick, who hasn’t played in three years and probably never will again, and other players who exercised their right of free speech and supported him.
Would I personally kneel? No. Not for a million dollars. But it is interesting to note that those most critical of him – and others that your president (not mine) demanded be “fired” – condone, at least on some level, displaying the flag.
Standards? Once you got two, you got none.
Kind of like flags.