How to be free, P.C., and remember history

I once had a long conversation with a man who proudly hung confederate flags from his house and his truck, and belonged to the Sons of the Confederacy. On his fridge there was a magnet that said, “A government that’s big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you have.”

The words, symbols, and gestures we use as communication tools often double as a source of conflict. And in the 21st century, social media’s ability to curry mass audiences into support for a cause creates the impression that we’ve entered an era of being offended, quite often.

I don’t agree that this is strictly a millennial issue, but feel that I belong to a generation made aware. You do not have to reach too far back in history to find hateful, prejudiced language interwoven in every day culture, but we remain in the midst of a major rhetorical overturn. In the United States, our country’s leadership undoubtedly represents backlash in the politically correct movement.

As the Atlantic’s review suggests, Donald Trump’s popularity was gained through often crass commentary, and an ability to ignite those feeling disenchanted with 21st century discourse. During his election, and now in his presidency, Trump calls for a return back to the “good old days”, sharing a mentality of many who could once hang their flags without any question of dispute. Language, like climate, remains a politically divisive issue.

According to the conservapedia, political correctness is “communal tyranny” and has “been imposed by leftists to restrict debate and silence oppression”.

Without agreeing, I can recognize that the conservapedia’s definition of political correctness and the current administration both bring to light the potential for efforts to be inclusive that may conflict with first amendment rights.

Shall we review? If you are an American citizen, the importance of memorizing this amendment is equal to knowing our pledge of allegiance and national anthems.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The amendment is a reminder that this conversation requires a middle ground in which, without bias, we can address both the spirit and letter of the law. The man I mentioned earlier, hailed from proud confederate lineage, and told stories of disenchantment and oppression he feels from the government. His defense, and many others, is that of heritage, over hate. But, it is undeniably difficult to separate the two. 

Unsurprisingly, the rebel flag showed up much stronger when those in opposition called for it’s banishment. For many, it represents centuries of oppression and a divide that ripples through the undercurrent of modern race relations. But if we revert back to the first amendment, does stopping individuals from waving this flag inhibit their ability to speak freely?

I find myself, often in the middle, of two belief systems that create a constant push and pull of power, equality, and distribution of these things among the people. This conversation is about the flag, but it is also about the many statues, buildings, and figures, whose histories are rooted in unsavory acts. Do we knock them down, or let them stand? If so, what do they stand for?

We fight battles about language on a grand, political scale, but conversation begins among individuals. Spend time talking with the people you don’t agree with.

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