I am writing in order to join the hooplah over the banishment of Confederate flags from Dolores High School. The confederate flag is only a symbol, like the swastika, until it is used as a weapon of hate. Like the swastika, it can be used innocently for other purposes, but because of its very real history as a weapon of hate, its public display should usually be treated as hate speech. The high school kids who caused this fracas should not be severely punished, but they should be shown why what they did was hurtful.
White Americans have forfeited their claims to the peaceful display of the Confederate flag - it is too late to try and argue that the display of this symbol is not an expression, however carefully couched, of white supremacy. Boy, do we hem and haw and tease out history to make our case ("Black soldiers served the Confederacy!"). As Bill Nelligan admitted in his guest column of Jan. 29, "The Confederate flag has no special meaning for me." Of course not, Bill; you're white. We have to remember that just saying so doesn't make the hate go away. How many times have you heard someone say, "I'm not a racist, but ...."?
We have community members, though, who are rallying behind these boys with justifications such as "They didn't mean it," or that they are just "rebellious teenagers." This may be true for the boys, but it is our solemn and imperative duty as a community to make sure that we are not sending the message to our kids that the casual display of the Confederate flag is no big deal.
Hate speech is protected under the Constitution until it becomes an incitement to violence. I believe that school administrators have the right to censor minors. I don't think the Constitution is at stake. What I think is at stake is our unwillingness to acknowledge that our community, like every other, contains the seeds that are always waiting to grow into incitement of violence against minorities. The more we shrug and say "boys will be boys," the closer those seeds get to germination.