Panic vs. Tolerance: Gay Marriage, the Confederate Flag, and Wade Hampton
|the rainbow flag of the LGBT movement|
I'm not just exaggerating, either: I know these people are panicking because they're making extreme comments about the state of our country, the decline of our democracy, and the downfall of society. One of these people is even Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
At the root of this panic is a fundamental issue that everybody struggles with: tolerance and open-mindedness. People are panicking because they're struggling to accept (or refuse to accept) ways of life and perspectives different than their own.
With gay marriage, the case is clear: One woman marrying another woman does absolutely nothing to harm anyone, but millions of Americans have opposed this simple act, essentially out of the belief (expressed in a variety of ways) that it would be wrong to modify the tradition of heterosexual monogamous marriage. Whether they used religious justifications, or arguments about what is "natural," or what's healthy for children, gay marriage detractors all opposed a simple change in tradition because they couldn't accept the idea of people living their lives just a little bit differently.
In the case of the Confederate Battle Flag, it's apparent that there are large number of Americans who continue to revere the flag as a symbol of Southern pride and heritage, even a symbol of rebellion against the Federal Government. However, there are also many Americans for whom it is painfully obvious that this flag is a symbol of white supremacy and racial injustice, designed by soldiers fighting to preserve slavery, carried on by the KKK and other white supremacists that spread terror throughout the South for a hundred years, and even displayed in South Carolina starting in the '60s in reaction against the Civil Rights Movement.
|some of the negative responses to my criticism of the flag|
Lastly, in the wake of the recent debate over Confederate symbols, Alaska's governor Bill Walker announced that the name of the Wade Hampton Census Area would be changed. Wade Hampton was a slave-owning Confederate whose son-in-law became a judge in Alaska and named the census area for him. Census areas aren't particularly important designations, but it seemed like a pretty small and commonsense decision for the governor to change the name to a more appropriate Native one.
|some of Governor Walker's Facebook comments|
I don't suppose they've considered that this name change would cost virtually nothing, either, considering it's a name used solely bureaucratically and will probably take a few minutes of time away from a few officials to change the wording on paperwork. Wade Hampton never even came to Alaska, let alone did anything positive for it. Surely there shouldn't be a problem in removing his name and substituting a more appropriate one—but I suppose for those opposed to change, even the smallest alterations are a threat.
As a historian, I believe honoring the past and preserving traditions can be incredibly important. At the same time, however, I recognize that societies change over time, and no tradition or historical memory can be preserved forever unaltered. In a society as diverse and multicultural as the United States, it pays to be tolerant and open-minded, especially when so many have suffered in our past when dominated by a single group and worldview.
I believe the recent progress on fronts as varied as gay marriage, the Confederate flag, and the changing of names signals that our society is becoming more tolerant and open-minded. My hope is that trend will continue far into the future.