The parents and siblings of Michael Edward Yates, Jr., one of the soldiers killed by a comrade at a military counseling center in Baghdad held a press conference this morning to express their sorrow. While watching the event on CNN, and immediately empathizing with the Yates family over their loss, my eye caught the sight of a Confederate flag positioned prominently next to the American flag in the background. My sympathy for the family immediately turned to scorn. Seeing the bars and stars displayed in such a way was a cold reminder of how many whites in this country are still invested in the Civil War and issues that should have long ago been resolved.
What war was their son fighting and for who? It sounds like a harsh question for a family in grief but one that needs to be raised considering their use of such a racially offensive symbol. Could you have imagined the outrage if a Nazi swastika had been displayed? Sure you can. Yet, no reporter at this press conference raised the question over the use of a treasonous symbol that is a blatant insult to our national heritage. Of course, there are those who will say it would have been in bad taste for the family to be hit with such a question. I could not disagree more. This young man was a soldier in the United States military and sworn to protect the ideals the American flag represents. The other flag is in direct contradiction to those ideals and an insult to every man and woman in uniform.
When are we going to bury this offensive symbol? It seems like every so often it makes an appearance and Blacks are told that it is simply a legacy of southern culture. Yes, a culture that was rooted in human bondage and then the legal dehumanization of Blacks through Jim Crow. It is a reminder of rape, lynchings and outright thievery through the sharecropper system and the illegal taking of Black land. It is a remnant of southern justice and the criminalization of Blackness in a system openly defiant of the U.S. Constitution. It is a cancer that sought to kill innocent Black children by depriving them of an education. The Confederate flag has no place in our nation.
The Yates family dishonored the memory of their son today by letting that flag stand prominently. Is that the symbol that he will take to the grave with him? Is that the flag that will be displayed on his coffin when his remains are flown back to Dover Air Force Base? I know for certain that it was not the flag that was affixed to his uniform when he was felled by a disturbed comrade. I know it was not the flag those soldiers in Baghdad salute at the crack of dawn. I know it is not the banner that our Commander-in-Chief upholds as the leader of the free world. Yet, somehow the Yates family forgot, or let their southern slip show, when they spoke tearfully about their son and proudly about his service in the military.
Lest we not forget that it was an American soldier, Tim McVeigh, who empathized with white supremacist groups, who launched the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil before September 11, 2001. If Yates harbored those same sentiments, and we may never know for sure but his family preferences are quite clear, he too failed the loyalty test. It does not make his death any less senseless but it does soil his service and leads me to feel much less sympathy. I know that it is customary to provide unquestionable support for our troops, but I have to first know if they are indeed fighting for us. In the worldview of that Confederate flag, my community is the enemy so I could never honor anyone or anything that questions my very existence.
When the final notes of Taps is sounded on the life of this fallen soldier I hope his family will not let “Dixie” be the last tune many of us associate with this young man.