Growing up, I watched a lot of the Dukes of Hazzard. If you don’t recall, the show was about a pair of cousins from Georgia that were on probation for running moonshine. Their car was called, “General Lee,” and it had a big ol’ confederate flag on its roof. The show seemed pretty innocuous back then.
In rural Wisconsin, we were also taught that the Civil War was not about slavery, rather it was about southern states fighting to keep states’ rights versus a stronger federal government. Our lessons didn’t really point out that one of the main “states’ rights” that they were really interested in preserving was slavery.
So, as an impressionable teen from the north watching the Dukes of Hazzard and listening to 80s and early 90s country music, the confederate flag seemed like a harmless little piece of Americana. It seemed so harmless, in fact, that I had a confederate flag license plate on the front of my pickup truck (pictured above).
Now, the thought embarrasses me. I cannot believe I was that ignorant. I cannot believe that I was so willing to offend those who saw the flag as a repressive reminder that, but three or so generations before me, people were enslaved under that flag (or variations thereof). When confronted about it, I ignorantly said, “you just don’t understand. It’s not about slavery, it’s about celebrating country life.” But I was the one who did not understand.
Now I see it for what it really was. The Dukes of Hazzard, NASCAR culture, some aspects of country music—a lot of that was just normalizing or desensitizing us to this symbol of hate to passively help further its message of hatred.
I wish I would have known better as a kid. But I was only that—a kid.
I assure you my kids will know better… and I hope their kids will know better, too.