It’s rare that American news coincides so neatly with news in Ireland. It’s a real treat to write about it when it does unless it is a story full of bigotry and grandstanding which unfortunately, is true today. Often times whenever a group is called out for their bullying traditions or symbols of hatred, their response is always the same. They claim that the behavior isn’t racist or sectarian, that instead it is tradition and heritage – as if the concepts are mutually exclusive. Guess what? It IS tradition and heritage and it IS racist, sectarian and vile. The time has come to accept that and leave horrible traditions behind.
Here in America, this is about the current argument over the Confederate flag but the issue almost identical to the Marching Season in the North of Ireland. It’s not a stretch to connect the two because they are almost the very same and ironically, many of the same people are involved as well, proven by the mural above. Both groups and their resulting justifications, excuses, and rallying battle cries are often repeated verbatim by each other. It makes sense when you think of our histories – much of the American South was settled by the Scots-Irish who had previously been in the North of Ireland. Some of their descendants are now arguing for the right to still fly the Confederate flag wherever they want. To them, the fact that it represents the degradation and enslavement of another group of people is beside the point, much like many factions of the Orange Order in the North of Ireland. They claim it as part of their heritage and tradition – and try to say that it doesn’t stand for the awful things that it always has anymore. Now it stands as a symbol of their history and culture and to remove it is to attack their freedom and deny them the right to celebrate their past. Confederate supporters throw temper tantrums and cry out that their traditions are being whittled away bit by bit and that no one else gets to decide what their flag means.
Does this sound familiar yet? It should. Jump over the puddle, and those in the North of Ireland are singing the same song. If you watch any newscast or documentary, read any book or article on the Loyalists or the Orange Order, you will hear the very same words come out of their mouths. They claim that the Marching Season isn’t about oppression and that bonfires and parades in July are just a celebration of their culture and are not motivated by hate. They play the victim card at every angle, trying to make people believe that they are under attack and that the crackdowns and the Parade Commission decisions are chipping away at their god given rights to promote their history and practice their traditions. They sound just like their Confederate counterparts here in the States.
It’s time to stop letting both groups get away with their martyr-like sob stories about heritage, whether it’s traditional or not. Yes, both of their traditions and heritage consist of pomp, parades, and patriotism – but they also celebrate their own acts of treason, terror, and a total subjugation of their neighbors and fellow citizens. One cannot say they are not about hate when bonfires in the North of Ireland have effigies of Catholics leaders, politicians, and banners that say K.A.T.* hanging from them. Similarly, Southern folks can’t claim it’s not about slavery and racism when most of the people defending the flag still use the N-Word on a regular basis while having mock lynchings and civil war themed weddings, complete with Black “help” on old plantations. It’s like trying to convince people that Skrewdriver is just a regular band. It’s complete bullshit and both groups should be called on it.
The fall out is appalling and sad. There’s a resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan here in the U.S. and they are having rallies and protests to save their flag of hate, while maintaining that it is no longer hateful. Meanwhile at least seven Southern Black churches have been burned to the ground in as many days and racially motivated violence continues to rise at a truly alarming rate. In the North of Ireland, the bonfires get bigger and bigger and the violence surrounding the Sectarian celebrations gets worse and worse every year. Orange Order leaders and spokesmen claim that the bonfires and parades are good for the community and in the same breath they threaten violence if they don’t get to march through communities that don’t want them. At some point this madness has to stop, or it will explode and return us all to the ugliest and darkest parts of both our nations’ histories.
I know this is easier said than done. However, the removal of the Confederate flag from state buildings in America and the altered marching routes in Belfast and the rest of the North of Ireland are good starts. They’d be better still if they weren’t forced on the population, but it is clear that we can’t make this decision ourselves in order to be more decent humans. We can barely accept it when we’re told to. Until we all grow up enough to let our differences go, it is the government’s duty to do whatever they can to minimize the damage and terror of hateful groups, and to charge those who refuse to comply and act violently with the stiffest charges they can.
I’m not saying they should ban the bigoted celebrations, nor am I saying that symbols and flags should be banned. No voice should be silenced – even one that I find deplorable. I am saying that no innocent neighbor or bystander should have to be happy when it’s shoved in their faces – and no state or government of any country should allow hatred to be continued or celebrated in their name. People can have the biggest parades in the world – as long as they do it where their communities accept that kind of behavior. No one is entitled to continue bullying others in order to celebrate their heritage. Have a giant bonfire, but don’t allow racist or sectarian brats to decorate it with their filth – or help build it. Fly whatever flag you want on your property or on your person—hell, my relatives did—but don’t try to pretend that you aren’t celebrating your own perceived superiority when you do so. Go buy a sticker of the Confederate flag for your car – just don’t expect the U.S. government to provide it for you…and if you get nasty notes and/or the occasional scratch, well, maybe it won’t be worth buying again. When society refuses to accept or promote hateful messages, they begin to get quieter and smaller and until we are willing to do that ourselves, we must deal with the governments and commissions. They are not chipping away at any personal freedoms – they are merely trying to mitigate the state-sponsored hatred and collusion that has been in place for far too long. It’s time to allow it to fade into the past and to be better people – no matter where we live. It is our duty to not buy into their tepid justifications and to call out the bullies when we see them. It’s everyone’s responsibility to protect the innocents and to teach our children not to follow in the footsteps of the past, but to forge their own into a better, respectful and unsegregated future.
Over the last few days, the giant bonfires of the North are stealthily being set alight early. The Confederate flags are being torn down by activists while the politicians drag their feet. This won’t solve anything in the long run—and in some cases, it may make it worse—but it does provide a whisper of mischievous hope in a world that is so dominated by louder, more bigoted shrieks. I take comfort in any disruption to traditions that are designed to tear down fellow human beings and am proof that you can be better than your ancestors. Greater acceptance has already won in the majority of both Ireland and the U.S. recently and I have to hold out hope that future generations can unlearn even more of the bigotry and suspicion that hurts us all in order to change the world, even if it doesn’t happen in my lifetime. Until that day, I’ll settle for people keeping their irrational hatred and fear to their own damn selves and not teaching or spreading anymore of it, here in America and in Ireland. If it takes politicians and commissions to make that happen, so be it. It’s time to grow up, quit whining, bullying, and making things worse, and let the bad traditions and hateful heritage slink back into history where it belongs.
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*Note: K.A.T. is an anti-Catholic abbreviation used in some Protestant areas of Ireland and one that I don’t care to ever define or spread.