When one gets to one’s mid-fifties, one doesn’t have too many new first-time experiences. But I also became a father later than most, so this past weekend, in the company of my bicycling daughters, aged 4 and 8, I did something for the first time. I marched in a Homecoming parade, walking behind the banner of the Child Development Lab, where my younger daughter, Grace, attends pre-K. I’d never done this before.
Of course, “marched” is a euphemism. My main activity was trying to limit the mayhem caused by my kids on bikes.
But let me get to the point of this column, which is not so heartwarming.
As we waited to take our position as the parade got underway, well-drilled high school marching bands and spirited TTU Student Life floats went past. Unfortunately, one float from Student Life was being towed by a pick-up sporting a Confederate flag license plate.
In effect, the TTU Homecoming parade featured a Confederate flag.
If you come to campus any day of the week, you will see such a pick-up truck as was pulling this float. It will be large, shiny, and muscular, and you will know it’s not registered to a female student. If you don’t see such a vehicle every day on campus or rolling along nearby streets, then you certainly see one each week. It’s got a license tag on the back bumper and the Confederate flag emblem on the front.
Or maybe you won’t see it, and that’s part of the problem. Such displays of divisiveness are prevalent enough in our daily landscape that they escape our notice. And then, apparently because no one noticed, it becomes part of a parade that’s supposed to be about celebrating our community, who we are and what we share.
I honestly don’t think that the people who paraded down Dixie Avenue in and behind the truck fronted by the Confederate flag meant it specifically as a statement for this occasion. But – and it’s a big but – the placing of such a symbol on a vehicle that makes the rounds in public spaces does make a statement, and it is intended to do so.
I teach the interpretation of symbols. You can’t limit or control the meaning of a symbol displayed in a public space. Though a Confederacy-symbol bearer might contend that this display is meant only to show pride in Southern heritage, let’s think a minute about what else the Confederate flag has meant and has come to mean. It is the standard-equipment flag of those promoting the most vile, racist agendas in our nation and worldwide. It has become a symbol for European skinheads, according to the Washington Post, a stand-in for the swastika since the latter is banned in Germany, France and a number of other nations. It has been removed from the statehouse in South Carolina, among other places, because of the statement it makes about the security of all citizens in our public spaces.
I couldn’t help but think, parading toward Tennessee Tech’s campus and seeing more and more people of color as I got to the university proper, that universities are rare and special places of inclusiveness in our society – and yet here I was marching in a parade that featured a flag that signaled intolerance and hatred.
At the very least, all such symbols should be prevented by explicit rule from ever being a part of a TTU-sponsored activity again. But let’s say more – if you are a spirited supporter of our university, unscrew this insult from your truck, peel it off your window and call upon others to do so as well. When you don’t, you are insulting and hurting people and supporting bigotry.