REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK: When a neighbor raises the Confederate flag

WE MOVED to the Hudson River Valley a little more than two years ago to live out our retirement years.

We had often motorcycled here. (It was a straight shot north of the City.) We loved the natural scenic beauty. But would we be safe?

Safety to us did not mean getting away from the crime normally associated with cities. As an interracial, gay couple safety to us meant being free of harassment from hate driven ideologues. After living for 21 years in an actual state of the Confederacy and a border state, we did not want to spend our golden years re-litigating the Civil War. We were looking forward to living and enjoying our freedoms as Americans and retiring from advocating for better treatment as Americans.

It’s one thing to deal with hate when in pursuit of work and better education in order to get better paying work. Perfectly American endeavors. Some days you ignore it. Some days you confront it. Some days there isn’t much you can do about it.

Motorcycling became a more hazardous activity when beer cans were tossed at us. And what can you say when co-workers as well as complete strangers express their dislike of you, to you because you are “Yankees”?

So my wife straight up asked our realtor: “How will we be received as black and white and gay?”

“No problem” was the realtor’s response. And there really wasn’t the first year.

Then there was the 2016 presidential campaign. That’s when we saw the first Confederate flags–mostly mobile fluttering from pick-up truck beds but a few planted in residential doorways and windows. It was a surprising display in communities several hundred miles north of the Mason-Dixon line. There was no direction that we drove in that we did not see at least one Stars and Bars.

We asked a man who was doing some landscaping work for us about the Confederate flags in the area and he said that it was not an expression of sympathy with Confederate ideology but rather an individual expression of rebelliousness. That was the first time I heard that explanation.

Could it be that the Stars and Bars bearers were ignorant of the history of that flag’s symbolism?

My own pre-college education about the Civil War left much to be desired. I did not buy into my 4th grade teacher’s lesson that slavery was good because the slaves were well cared for. (And from reading on-line comments in the Charlottesville aftermath, Civil War teaching doesn’t seem much improved.)

So the Confederate flag wavers could be expressing individual rebelliousness ignorant of the deep and persistent animus historically associated with it. Then, this year, a neighbor raised a Confederate flag in his front yard.

It is very large and planted atop a very tall flag pole. You cannot miss it, whether walking or driving, amidst the tree canopy. It flies next to an American flag of equal size. It went up a few months ago. (I don’t recall its advent being tied to any particular current event.)

Call it a symbol of states’ rights or southern heritage. They are euphemisms for hate. The right and heritage the South sought to preserve was based on slavery, a hateful condition maintained by intimidation.

We can avoid seeing this visual reminder of America’s darkest days by not driving or walking past our neighbor’s house. Maybe that’s what he wants.

We have lived this life before. It’s not new. We were just hoping to escape it when we moved to the Hudson Valley.

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