I was reading the Journal-Inquirer this weekend when I ran across this story about a mural painted at Stafford High School which drew fire, and is now being painted over, for being offensive. Most of the images cited as offensive were, in fact, pretty harmless. However, there was one that stuck in my mind: Someone had painted a Confederate battle flag. Underneath was some sort of inscription--I don't have the paper in front of me so I can't tell you exactly what it read--which said something like "This is my culture, respect it."
Stafford is a pretty white place, as are most of the little semi-rural towns in northern Tolland County. Imagine being one of the very, very few black kids at that school. Imagine walking down the hallway and seeing that painted there. What would you think?
And what if that wasn't the first time?
I was a high school teacher for a couple of years in a small town very like Stafford, and there was a certain group of kids who had all kinds of Confederate flag gear. This ranged from stickers on notebooks to decals on their cars to the real deal flying from the flagpole outside their homes. There were a few kids who were obsessed with that flag. They put it everywhere.
This is Connecticut. We not only have no historical connection to the society that produced that flag, our forerunners actually fought a bloody war to bring that rebellious society to heel. So what was this deep connection these kids felt for that flag? It made no sense to me.
I actually asked a few of them about it, and was told that "it's a redneck thing." That made a little sense. They defined themselves as country boys, and they tended to come from the families who had lived in these little towns forever. The families who moved into the new suburban-like developments from towns like South Windsor, Manchester and Enfield didn't have the same attitude. Still, I had to ask myself--was it a racist thing, too? There was obviously something secret, since the kids sometimes, when they remembered, went to great lengths to hide it, or, when displaying it, cocked a defiant attitude.
I also knew those kids. I heard some of the things they said, and saw through some of the code they put in their writings and speech. There was an undercurrent of defensive racism and homophobia, of Connecticut's answer to Good Old Boys feeling threatened by the encroaching suburbs and the modicum of diversity they brought, to their actions, words and deeds. Sometimes it became much more than an undercurrent. There were incidents. Some had to do with race. Many more had to do with sexuality.
Worse, it wasn't just the kids. Their fathers, brothers and uncles were just as bad. I met a few of them. Big guys. Intimidating. Their trucks sported Confederate flag decals, too.
On the whole, it was a pretty stupid thing of that principal to cover up the mural in Stafford. Kids need to express themselves, and they need exposure to art. That Confederate flag, though... that has to go. One way or another.
Soper, Kym. "School officials whitewash murals on high school walls: Students, parents upset over decision; art teacher suspended over assignment." Journal-Inquirer 10 June, 2006.