I grew up with the Stars and Bars. Among my childhood swag: a Dukes of Hazzard slot car set, a Dukes of Hazzard lunch box, a Dukes of Hazzard General Lee Matchbox car, a Dukes of Hazzard board game and (of course) the Dukes of Hazard album featuring Tom Wopat singing “Up On Cripple Creek.”

I was a tremendous fan of the show – a Californian’s reckoning of what life is like in Georgia. My brother and I never missed an episode. The Coy and Vance episodes represented my darkest year. I had the hots for Daisy. I mimicked Roscoe P. Coltrane’s laugh to perfection, much to my mother’s considerable dismay. And it took me an inordinately long time to accept that K.I.T.T was faster than the General Lee.

To me, the “rebel flag” represented adventure and justice. It was the banner for all that was right and courageous. It was the symbol for anyone with an appreciation for flaming arrows, jumping over creek beds, and besting corrupt localities.

But later, it devolved. There was, while I was in junior high, a national debate centered on honoring Martin Luther King with a holiday. This benign recommendation sparked a surprising amount of vitriol among my classmates. If Martin Luther King should be honored with a holiday than so should Robert E. Lee. 

Even as a dopey junior high school kid, I found this logic perplexing. One man was a proponent of peace and unity. The other was a defender of traitors whose able military tactics resulted in the deaths of tens-of-thousands of men. To me, there was no correlation.

To many of my classmates, however, to honor King was somehow a threat to whiteness – as if one day of commemoration would become a starting point to some kind of Caucasian overthrow. There was no real public outcry among my classmates; there was only a surly grumbling. One utterance of this grumbling changed my outlook of the Stars and Bars forever.

“They got their X, and we got ours.”

The message was convoluted and clear all at the same time. For whatever reason, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were often considered one and the same among my brethren. The second X, of course, was sown on a field of red. To my peers, the flag wasn’t about heritage or Southern pride. It was about creating a racial distinction that, among other things, would not celebrate the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. because, well, I dunno. Draw your own conclusion.

You can justify the Confederate Flag as an heirloom to history all you want. But what matters is what the flag represents today. And what it is is a reminder is that what prevents us from being equal as human beings is our unwillingness to do what is right and just and courageous.

We can’t even measure up to the Dukes.

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