Saturday, June 20, 2015

Confederate Flag Signifies Nuthin’ But Southern Inhospitality

Within days after the nation marked — more than most likely ignored — Flag Day, another, not quite as old red, white and blue banner, stirred a wealth of controversy. To many, worshipping this flag is not-so-subtle proof that bigotry is alive and well, from coast to coast and from north to south, in 21st century America.           
After the April 17th massacre, the South Carolina and 
American flags (at left) fly at half mast as the Confederate
flag unfurls below at the Confederate Monument in 
Columbia, South Carolina.  (Sean Rayford-Getty Images)
One specific symbol that clearly represents enduring racism — not to mention treason — is the Confederate flag, of which there are elements in banners of several southern states that refuse to remove it from capitol buildings where it waves alongside the Stars and Stripes. Supporters perceive it as an emblem of their proud heritage with many third and fourth generation Southerners undoubtedly in accord with that rationale.
Yet to some, regardless of race, there’s no more disgraceful symbol in this nation’s history than the Confederate flag.
To dyed-in-the-wool Southerners, who, even now, refer to the Civil War as the struggle for independence from the “tyranny and aggression of northern states,” the dispute is not about the flag’s historical implication, but whether or not it’s appropriate to display a symbol that, in the eyes of many local and non-regional residents, will always signify oppression, hatred and disloyalty.
African-Americans, whose ancestral roots on these shores began and persisted for over 300 years in slavery, servitude and segregation, are naturally disgusted at the mere sight of the flag. Many Catholics and Jews most likely also cringe at the banner's blue cross against a bright, red background as it reminds them of an icon glorified by the Klu Klux Klan and other racist groups, which number in the hundreds, according to some estimates, oppose anything that isn’t wholly white and Christian.
After the Civil War the public display of the Confederate flag was illegal in states occupied by Federal troops. But it resurfaced when Southern states raised the flag or incorporated it into their state flag in the early part of the 20th century, then decades later when segregationists employed it as a defiant stance against federal authorities in the civil rights struggle.
During World War II, military units that consisted largely of Southerners proudly displayed the flag as their unofficial emblem. Some soldiers even carried Confederate flags into battle.
During the Republican presidential primary in 2000, Republican contenders, including Sen. John McCain, skirted the issue claiming it was a state matter. Democrat candidates then were outspoken about their opposition against the flag on public buildings. Seven years later, presidential hopeful Joe Biden demanded the flag be removed from the South Carolina capitol, while McCain again waffled on the issue.
More than a decade ago, following pressure from residents and threats of economic boycotts, the South Carolina legislature passed the Heritage Act, which removed the Confederate banner from the statehouse and relocate it where it currently waves from the nearby Confederate Soldiers’ Monument. Some Southern states continue to exhibit the Confederate flag over government buildings and it is quite evident at regional historical monuments commemorating the Civil War.
The flag controversy was briefly revived in Montgomery, Alabama, in 2007, where former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani was campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination. Giuliani refused to criticize the flying of the Confederate flag over the state capitol. His contention was that the decision was a state, not a federal, matter.
A cynic, like me, speculated that that particular question was purposely raised to allow “America's mayor” to sway fence-sitting Southern voters, since the Confederate flag hasn’t flown over Alabama’s capitol building for two decades. In fact, few states even fly it on public buildings or incorporate it in their state flags.
Nonetheless Giuliani's response was as clear as a possum on a log at 30 yards. He reacted like most presidential candidates — by pandering to a local constituency hoping to secure votes in upcoming primaries.
Giuliani was not just trying to sway a bunch of uneducated rednecks. He is well aware, as is anyone with a high school education, that the Confederate flag is much more than a regional issue. Tens of thousands of Southerners died in battle under the banner of the flag in the Civil War trying to preserve, among other things, a traditional way of life that for hundreds of years kept human beings of African ancestry in bondage and forced labor.
Though the Confederate flag was only a symbol of a group of rebellious states for a brief period, it, nevertheless, represents centuries of cruel and inhuman treatment of millions. For that solitary reason it is unworthy of a place on any government building in this nation.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Remembering My Dad on Father’s Day

  Sunday will be my 21st fatherless Father’s Day. It’s no longer as melancholy as it was the first few years after he died in 1994. As time passes, one prevails over the death of a parent, yet the memory lingers in the heart and in the mind — to the point of nostalgia.                               
  I fondly recall when he took my brother and me to watch our favorite team play at the legendary Yankee Stadium in The Bronx. The first was a night game. I remember anxiously walking out from under the stands and seeing the lush green field, the giant scoreboard and the players warming up in pre-game activities. Up until then, I’d only watched the Yankees in black and white on television. But here they were in living color!
My kid brother, Mark, and I were so awed it wasn’t until the ride home that when we finally thanked him. But I don’t think he needed to hear our words. The utter excitement on our faces and our voices were obvious.
I’ll never forget him huffing and puffing — due to a persistent three-pack-a-day smoking habit that undoubtedly shortened his life — as he ran alongside during my initial attempts on a two-wheeled bicycle. I fell and sustained more than a few scrapes and bruises, but he soothed the pain, first with his words and then as he administered first-aid when we got home.
My father was part of what has been labeled “The Greatest Generation,” raised during the Depression and maturing during World War II. He steadfastly maintained Old World values and customs assimilated from his parents, who came to the U.S. from Russia in the early 19th century.
As society and culture evolved, my father reluctantly accepted change or surrendered established habits. Nonetheless, I have benefited by the positive aspects he passed on that have made me a better person.
Like my mother, my father instilled in me a love for music and movies. His favorites were Al Jolson and Mario Lanza and I came to appreciate them in a small way. He enjoyed movies, especially those with James Cagney, John Garfield and Humphrey Bogart, which encouraged me to explore and relish many “classic” films.
The majority of my father’s peers considered it improper for men to display their sensitive side in public — or even in private. One of the enduring credos of his, and preceding generations, was “real men don’t cry” — regardless of the situation.
However, I saw my father cry a few times. The first was when his mother died. My grandmother was in her mid-eighties, but had been ill for almost as long as I remember. My father was devoted to her, despite her cantankerous manner, which she displayed, until the end.
He shed tears again the day I went into the Army. He showed no emotion when I received my draft notice months earlier, but the day he dropped me off at the induction center in lower Manhattan, he sobbed.
From the time we got into his yellow Checker taxicab in Sheepshead Bay until we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, we barely said a word to one another. My father could be talkative when discussing the Yankees or old movies, but not when it came to his feelings.
He did try to reassure me that this was probably the best thing, uttering the clich├ęd maxim, “It’ll make a man of you,” a cultural epithet given to many young men entering the service. In retrospect, it seems unusual advice for someone possibly facing death in combat.
As we came off the century-old span, he reached over and firmly touched my hand. I looked at him and saw tears well up in his eyes.
We pulled up to One Whitehall Street and I exited the taxi. He came around to the passenger side and embraced me like never before. He looked at me with tears on his cheek. All he said was, “Be careful,” yet it was much more than straightforward parental concern.
With a slight lump in my throat I turned and walked into the induction center. He drove off to start his workday in the frenzy of Manhattan traffic.
I’ll never know the joy, excitement and sorrow of being a father. But I like to think I would have been as devoted and compassionate as the man who raised me.
Thanks, Dad, for the baseball games and the bats and gloves.
Thanks for the bike riding lessons and the new bicycles.
And thanks, Dad, for those exceptional tears. They reinforced your feelings for me at a time I needed it most.
For the man he was and for everything he gave me, I’m ever grateful.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

My Patience with Political Correctness Is Flagging

This column was first published on June 22, 2006
In case you missed it, or chose to ignore it, June 14 was Flag Day. Don't feel too badly because it’s one of those official events that few Americans know or care about and even fewer observe.
It's so insignificant that it’s scarcely more than a reference on calendars. There are no parades, no major events to commemorate it, no three-day weekend — and alternate-side-of-the street parking is in effect.
A few years ago I was annoyed when I went to one Brooklyn public school and saw the quasi-holiday transformed into an occasion to celebrate students’ multicultural backgrounds. This particular event should not be observed to accommodate some distorted principle!
It was Flag Day, an event honoring the American flag, not flags of South and Central American countries or European, African and Asian nations. American, as in U.S., as in English is NOT a second language here. Nor should we have to press one to hear it spoken!
I'm neither a flag-waving patriot nor an extreme leftist, but I’m getting sick and tired of watching some traditions undermined in the name of equality.
The following rant may tarnish my liberal credentials, nonetheless, the aforementioned episode, seems to be another instance of political correctness gone amok!
Well, enough is enough!
I always presumed equality simply meant treating everyone fairly and with the same respect and reverence you expect to receive. You know, the Golden Rule! But, with a growing number of huddled masses within our borders — legally and illegally — the policy of fairness seems to be eroding and skewed to favor non-English speaking people to make them feel more welcome, while second, third and fourth generations of natural born citizens are relegated to mediocrity.
Some immigrants, regardless of how long they've been here, speak with a conspicuous accent and occasionally require patience to comprehend them. I'm not adopting a "love-it-or-leave-it" approach, just sound reasoning. Our native language is ENGLISH — so learn it and speak it! There are numerous opportunities to take classes that teach it — for FREE.
When I traveled through Europe more than two decades ago the only places where English was spoken and understood fluently were in hotels and restaurants that catered to American tourists. When I passed through Germany for a few weeks, I was accompanied by a friend who was born in the U.S., but spoke fluent German because her mother was a native. Therefore, she served as my translator because few people in rural stores and shops spoke English. Without her I would have been lost. As a matter of fact, one day when I visited a few local landmarks in Hamburg on my own, I’d gone astray. It took almost an hour before I found someone who spoke adequate English to guide me back to my hotel.
It’s time for elected officials, regardless of party affiliation and cultural background, to stand up and refuse to kowtow and placate every immigrant group claiming it’s in the name of democracy, when it’s just for the sake of votes. These people are welcome here to live freely, to work hard to earn American dollars, but I find it unwarranted when some of them refuse to assimilate into the society like my grandparents and previous generations of immigrants did for more than a hundred years. The only time my grandparents' generation didn’t speak English was when they didn't want their grandchildren to understand what they were discussing.
Flag Day is — for those so inclined — to celebrate and show respect for our flag, its designers and makers. The flag represents our independence and our unity as a nation. The Stars and Stripes have a proud and glorious history. Many have died protecting it. America’s flag has stood proudly on the surface of the moon since Neil Armstrong took that one giant leap for mankind 37 years ago.
Flag Day was inspired by three decades of state and local celebrations, which began in New York City and quickly spread to Chicago and Philadelphia in the nineteenth century. The day marks the anniversary of the Flag Resolution of 1777 by the Continental Congress. President Woodrow Wilson officially established it on May 30, 1916. Though celebrated in various communities for years after Wilson’s proclamation, it was not until President Truman signed an Act of Congress that June 14 was designated as National Flag Day in 1949.
As Americans, we have every right to be proud of our culture, our nation, and our flag. Immigrants have the right to — and should — celebrate their heritages, flags and culture. But for crissakes, that doesn't mean changing an American celebration into a farce by making it some multicultural festival that has nothing whatsoever to do with the holiday.
What’s next, converting July Fourth into International Independence Day?
People, people, people, remember and honor your heritage with pride, but, in the name of equality and common sense, don’t allow that respect to reduce American holidays to triviality and national symbols to irrelevance.