The Athens County Agricultural Society took a disappointing vote on Saturday, with 124 members casting ballots against a proposal to ban the sale and display of Confederate flag merchandise at the annual fair. Just 33 members voted yes.
This decision does not reflect well on the civility or good sense of those who voted no, though in fairness this debate involves a tangled knot of issues including race, freedom, history, culture and commerce.
Yet, if viewed in terms of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” the issue’s not that complicated.
As someone with deep roots in the South, whose main idea of Southern culture involves music, food, bourbon and manners rather than slavery, war and hate, I can’t abide the tortured reasoning often heard in defense of Confederate symbolism.
Not one argument in favor of perpetuating, encouraging and/or hosting these offensive symbols stands up for a second against the compelling and straightforward arguments on the other side.
Millions of African Americans have a perfectly understandable reason to take deep offense at symbolism that represents the South fighting a war to perpetuate the enslavement of black people.
Millions of Americans sympathetic to the Union cause in that war take understandable umbrage to symbolism honoring those who provoked and fought the bloodiest war in American history (620,000 died in combat on both sides).
Millions of Americans of every stripe realize that modern white nationalist and racist groups have appropriated the Confederate flag symbol along with the Nazi swastika. When many people see that crossed-bar symbol, what they see are racists burning crosses and warning black people to “go back where they come from,” not some romantic, never-was image of the Old South.
If shouldn’t be a surprise that some people attending a family event like the Athens County Fair would view Confederate merchandise as a slap in the face, and a clear sign that they’re NOT welcome at this event.
Why on earth would anyone be OK with implicitly telling visitors to a community event that they’re not welcome?
The stupidest and meanest justification for allowing the sale of these items at the County Fair goes something like this: “Well, it doesn’t bother me. You snowflakes need to get over it.”
Ordering the rights and wrongs of our world on the simple rule – is it OK with me? – is almost as asininely narcissistic as the “it’s all about me” guy constantly tweeting his self-interest – and occasionally racism – from the Oval Office.
The price of adding a rule to the Athens County Fair’s vendors policy, prohibiting the sale and display of Confederate flag merchandise, is exceedingly small, almost to the point of being invisible. It wouldn’t make an iota of difference to anyone’s fair experience, other than one or two vendors of cheesy garbage who’ve got plenty of other cheesy garbage to sell anyway.
The cost of not adding the policy is another thing entirely.
We’ll become known – more importantly, we’ll know it about ourselves – as the community who cared so little about the feelings of our fellow citizens that we couldn’t take the easiest step in the world to avoid turning them away from our biggest family event.
That’s not something to be proud of.