On the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 27, during school hours, students at this school drove a car in a circle around Tiger Drive three times while waving a large Confederate flag out the window. The motives for these actions are unclear, but it appears to have been, at least partially, an attempt to incite reactions from other students. While simply wearing a clothing item with a Confederate flag, for example, is a form of personal expression, the nature of this incident suggests it was intentional disruption of the school’s general well-being.
Use of the Confederate flag has a long, complicated role in United States history. Supporters argue that it represents Southern pride and a rebellious culture, but it’s often criticized for its racist connotations towards African-Americans. For a significant portion of Americans, the flag is a symbol of hatred.
The “Confederate” flag was never actually an official flag of the Confederacy during the Civil War. It was the battle flag of Robert E. Lee’s Northern Virginia army, which fought on behalf of the Confederacy. For nearly a century after the war, what we know now as the Confederate flag was largely obsolete. It re-emerged as a symbol when some Southern states began implementing it in their state flags or flying it on state properties in the 1950’s and 60’s, in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement. Given these origins as a cultural symbol, its roots in racism are clear and unsubtle.
Regardless of your personal stance on the flag, it has no place in a school environment outside of use for historical and academic purposes. Certain uses of the flag might be within the realm of freedom of expression, although such a blatantly disruptive act as Tuesday’s incident does not qualify. However, regardless of whether it is allowed or not, any use of the Confederate flag remains an insensitive and obnoxious act.
Although the flag might not be seen as a racist symbol by some, it is representative of hatred for a lot of people and to disregard that is to be needlessly offensive and inconsiderate to much of the community.
In its response to Tuesday’s incident, the school should be as transparent and open as possible. Regardless of the negative publicity and difficulties that come with confronting it, any effort to minimize the happenings is a disservice to anyone who was harmed. Punishing the students involved and simply moving on does nothing to heal the damage caused or prevent similar things from happening in the future, while educational initiatives or school-wide discussion would.
Some of the reason the flag continues to be used so thoughtlessly may be a lack of education. More learning, whether it takes place in classrooms, school-wide forums, or elsewhere, is needed to ensure everybody has a basic understanding of why it is so hurtful to so many people.
In addition to any administrative action taken by the school, the student body should rise above the hateful and divisive actions exhibited this week to show solidarity with those who feel victimized, and make it clear that the poor decision-making and racism shown by a few students does not represent who we are as a whole.
One powerful student-led response so far was the “Blackout” event held during F-block Friday, Sept. 30 in the cafeteria in protest of the school’s lack of sufficient response to the Confederate flag incident. This event, which many students skipped a class to attend, featured minority students speaking on their experience in Newton public schools. Well-attended enough to fill most of the cafeteria, this response was exceptionally effective, as it sent a strong and clear message that we are proud of our racial and cultural diversity and will not be torn apart by bigotry.
While we collectively work to address and move past this unfortunate and unacceptable act, it is important that no blame is placed on the school community as a whole. While we have faced a number of issues with hate symbols and bigotry in recent years, the people responsible make up a tiny fraction of our student body.
Tuesday’s incident presents an opportunity for learning and progress, in terms of understanding why hate symbols are so harmful to many people and why use of them is never acceptable. While ideally, our community would not have to deal with an event like this, we should seize the chance to respond strongly and loudly, to be unified and show that hatred of this sort is not welcome or tolerated.