Many people born and raised in southern states have a sentimental attachment to the Confederate flag. They see it as a symbol of regional pride – a way of setting themselves apart from northern folks, with their stereotypical reputation as haughty, insensitive, and worse yet, "liberal."
But they need to refresh themselves on American history, especially as it pertains to the Civil War. If they did, they'd realize their cherished banner does not belong in public spaces anywhere in the United States – because it represents an act of treason against this country.
Every so often, a certain segment of the population relaunches the movement to make burning or desecrating the American flag illegal. These zealots have forgotten that attacks on the flag – usually part of a protest against outrageous acts perpetrated by the state – are protected under the First Amendment. They may also feel constitutional freedoms belong only to them, and not others whose activities they deem unsavory. And they ignore the fact that while the flag may be honored, it's not the piece of cloth that's important, but rather what it represents: the special liberties enshrined in the Constitution for all Americans to enjoy.
It's ironic that many who want American flag flouters punished are equally protective of the Confederate banner. Therein lies the hypocrisy, for these people are pledging fealty to states that seceded from the union over a way of life prominently featuring slavery. How can anyone pay lip service to "liberty and justice for all," while revering symbols of a system that touted the superiority of white people over their black brothers and sisters?
Recent cases of police brutality have laid bare the truth, for those who didn't grasp it already: White Americans still enjoy privileges not accorded to people of color. The question of whether abuse of authority by police is rooted in racism or an embedded internal culture may be up for debate, but statistically, people of color are targets more often than their pale-skinned friends. It's clear "we the people" have not yet "overcome," as Martin Luther King Jr. had hoped, and there's much work to be done. Ridding public spaces of a tribute to racism and treason could be a good first step of many hundreds this country will need to take.
That's not to say Americans should be prohibited from displaying the Confederate flag on private property; such a ban – like a ban on peaceful protests – would be an offense against the First Amendment. If flag-wavers want to send the message to their neighbors that they support a fractured United States rather than a cohesive one, they have that right. But maintaining the "stars and bars" in areas owned by all taxpayers – not just white ones or southern sympathizers – is divisive, unjust, and repugnant.
The current movement within the military branches of service to put the kibosh on the rebel banner is a courageous move that might be unpopular in some quarters now, but will stand out in coming years as righteous. States and municipalities should follow suit, defying high-level public figures who put their bigotry on display every time they bluster and bloviate about their support of Dixieland trappings.
Confederate flags and monuments cannot be banished from privately owned property, but they have no place overall in today's America. Indeed, they should not have had a place in yesterday's America, but they did – and we should learn from our mistakes.