(December 5, 2016) When last commenting on the topic, former Daily Show host Jon Stewart opined that displays of Confederate icons on public property should be prohibited because they can only be interpreted as symbols of slavery and racism. He dismissed entirely that those wanting to honor on public property the memory of her icons, leaders, soldiers and ordinary citizens have any rights that need be respected. The recent Presidential election, however, suggests that Stewart may eventually realize that others can disagree with his interpretation without being racist. During an interview five days ago he said:
I know a lot of first responders…[Many] voted for Trump. The same people…ran into burning buildings and saved whomever…they could no matter what color they were, no matter what religion and they would do it again tomorrow. So, if you want to…tell me that those people are giving tacit approval to an exploitative [racist] system ― I say, “OK, and would you put your life on the line for people who aren’t like you? Because they did.” I get mad about this stuff.
Less than a month before Stewart’s interview, a Traverse City, Michigan policeman was suspended because he displayed a Confederate Battle flag on his truck while he was off duty attending a Trump-protest rally. Following suspension, the eighteen-year veteran first responder was essentially forced to resign after the police chief labeled his flag display as “reprehensible” and disclosed that he might face unspecified criminal charges.
A similar incident in an Atlanta suburb last summer resulted in the firing of a twenty-year veteran police sergeant. She flew a Confederate battle flag below an American flag on a pole in her front yard with no complaints for more than a year. When asked afterward to explain she said, “the flag was part of my history, part of the South, part of the history involving the Civil War.” A department report stated, “She denied having any negative [presumably racial] feelings regarding the flag.”
For some of us there may be a natural instinct to honor our ancestors. Ancestor worship, for example, is common among Asians. As a matter of respect and civility, Westerners generally avoid criticizing the prior generations of Asians who live among us. We do not, for example, prohibit Japanese from honoring their ancestors who attacked the Pacific Fleet without warning at Pearl Harbor and treated captured American soldiers with brutality during World War II.Even those among us who condemn Japanese conduct during World War II are tolerant of their ancestor worship as a matter of cultural diversity and respect for the heritage of others.
An ancient wisdom explains, “We are all prisoners of our own experience.” Thus, New Jersey native Jon Stewart can understand how New Jersey and New York police and firemen can vote for Trump without being racist. He may, however, know nothing more about a guy like Old Rivers than a cow does about algebra. If he did, he might “get mad about this [Confederate censorship] stuff.”