It’s easy to condemn a mass murderer fueled by hate; it’s much harder to root out symbols, conventions and comments masquerading as innocuous relics of a time gone by.

The murders in Charleston at the hand of a racist madman have again sparked conversations about race relations in the United States.

The Civil War was romanticized throughout my childhood in the South. The horrible bloodshed of brother against brother wasn’t about slavery. It was about states’ rights against the federal government. I was even told that the driving reason for the war was that the Yankees wanted control of the South’s raw materials.

As a young man, the stories fit a convenient rebel narrative. Cowboy boots, faded jeans, and an attitude went well with the tale of fighting against an oppressive, impersonal government.

Like it did for so many of my peers, the Confederate flag came to represent pride in the South. I love the Southland; I love its people. It’s my home.

It also happens to be home to many people I care about who have a different color skin than me.

The same fairytale of my ancestors was instead their nightmare.

As much as I support the rights of states to govern themselves, no man has the right to own another. Sometimes states get it wrong—deeply wrong.

My forefathers fought for the Confederacy. Today, they’re long dead and buried. The lost causes of the Confederacy are less relevant to my Southern identity than sweet tea and seersucker suits.

Yet we can’t wipe past wrongs away so easily. They left indelible scars on our nation that linger.

Racism and hatred have been defeated time and again, but they leave hollow shells we refuse to discard. We look past them because they’re not a seen as a threat. We tell ourselves that putting away flags or changing our social habits won’t stop racism.

What we fail to realize is that those shells of the past become refuges for monsters like Dylann Roof.

How careless we are to leave them scattered about. Are flags more important than our friends? Is honoring the dead we never met worth inflicting pain on the living?

I love the South, but I don’t show my affection by flying a rebel flag. I can’t be serious about caring for our people when I hold my tongue in the face of racist jokes and sweeping generalizations. I degrade my home when I choose to clutch a historical fiction rather than the hands of my black friends and colleagues.

It’s shameful that it’s taken me so long to understand that my obtuse revisionist perspective on a lost war is a source of pain for those I love and a haunt for those with hate in their hearts.

I see that now, and realize the greatest way to honor our Southern heritage and secure our future is to leave the symbols of our past wrongs behind.

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