Swastikas, Confederate Flags and Race Pride
This weekend was interesting, to say the least. I spent Sunday at the Texas Gun Show. While I expected strange, maybe even interesting, I was unprepared for some of it. Guns and weapons don’t shake me. On display, they cause no panic. Some of the other things on display however, were enough to make me want to stay in the comfy confines of my little exhibitor booth. It was a joke to me and my coworkers. But when I was forced to leave the booth to forage for food, I ran into something that actually caused a bit of panic in me. At the risk of sounding over dramatic, I wandered through the exhibitor displays and because my eyes were trying hard to soak in everything that was going on around me, I walked right up to a booth selling memorabilia emblazoned with swastikas.
Of course, I relayed this information to the guy working the event with me, and we joked about it, the Confederate flags and the Ronald Reagan “Avenge me!” bumper stickers. At that point, it seemed silly that the sight of a swastika had evoked the type of emotion that it did in me. Then, one of the exhibitors next to me, who had overheard our conversation, decided to try and comfort me.
She had seemed friendly enough earlier in the day. She explained that these are just symbols of pride. That she spent her high school years comfortably swathed in Confederate flags at football games. And that her mother had been the proud owner of a charm bracelet decked with swastikas, purchased in Germany at the height of the Nazi regime, an item that, at the time of her mother’s death had been passed on to her. She was pissed, she explained, that these symbols had been corrupted by unfair and unbalanced historical accounts. Outraged that she couldn’t display them without being seen as a racist because people like me, she fussed while her eyes darted up to my wildly natural hair, were misinformed by history. It was people like me, whose hearts crash at the sight of a swastika that had robbed her of the opportunity to display her fierce Southern pride. It was my fault that her beloved symbols had been corrupted by history
Wait, what now?
Excuse me but uruh your symbols were not corrupted by people like me. They were corrupted by the hatred that some people used them to symbolize. I’m sorry that the Germans misappropriated the swastika, a deeply religious symbol and used it as the emblem of a regime that tortured and killed people all in the name of race pride. I’m sorry that the thought of such heinous acts still causes me worry when I see the symbol proudly displayed. Of course it doesn’t symbolize hatred to you because you, with your blond hair and blue eyes, are safe from its treacherous history. It’s people like me that bear the burden of a history tainted with racial oppression. And yes, I will think twice about approaching a place with a swastika on display until the theoretical whip marks are erased from my consciousness.
And, to keep things in perspective, if I had stepped into the gun show waving a red black and green flag, throwing my fist in the air and displaying a collection of “All Power to the People” buttons, you would make assumptions about my politics and views of race as well. And those symbols don’t even bear the blood of millions of people. But your assumptions would be fair because by displaying those symbols of race pride, I am in a way, subscribing to and taking part in their history.
So, when I make my assumptions about Confederate flag waving, swastika collecting, Ronald Reagan avenging folks, let me. But by all means, continue to display your race pride. I will continue to have my reservations about you. Is it racist? Or am I just making an attempt to shield myself from the bloody history of those symbols?