Intent vs. Impact

#unitecloud has posted a couple of times about trucks around St Cloud that have confederate flags flying off the back of them. I have had many discussions about these trucks – during our trainings, community discussions, online, and at our events. Many of my discussions center around the intent of the person flying the flag vs. the impact of those who see the flag and feel instant emotion – fear, anger, sadness, etc.

Today, the driver of one of these trucks called me and we had the following discussion (as best I can recall it):

Me: “This is Natalie.”

Driver: “Hi. This is the driver of the truck you posted about today with the flags.”

Me: “Ok.”

Driver: “Well, just so you know, I am not flying it to scare people, like your post says. I was just there because I have a friend there and I was bringing him food.”

Me: “Ok, well thanks for calling and talking about this.”

Driver: “I have the right to fly these flags.”

Me: “That’s exactly right – in fact, we say that in our post.”

Driver: “And I didn’t see any kids running away from me while I was there.”

Me: “OK. But do you understand why people are scared of you flying the confederate flag?

Driver: “No, I really don’t.”

Me: “Well, I’m assuming you are the same skin color as me – white. As white people we must understand how this flag has been used in our country’s history. It has been flown beside the bodies of dead bodies of black men (due to lynching). People that looked like us did that, even after people of color were no longer considered 3/5ths of a human anymore. This is our history, and if we don’t understand our history, then we are doomed to repeat it.”

Riding in an open car, group of white youths displays Confederate flags, and a swastika on a crudely lettered sign “White Power” as they rode through area along Pulaski Road during a civil rights march in Chicago, Aug. 13, 1966. (AP Photo)

Driver: “Well, I have family in the south.”

Me: “So do I. I was born in the South and still have a lot of family there.” (brief silence) “Do you have any other questions or concerns that you want to talk about?”

Driver: “I just don’t like that people are assuming that I am trying to scare kids when I’m not.”

Me: “Unfortunately, you are not the only person that flies the confederate flag off the back of their truck in this area. There are some people who do so and have driven around the La Cruz neighborhood, calling people n-words, telling them to get back to Somalia, and telling them to go back to their sh%$hole countries.”

Driver: “Well, I don’t to that.”

Me: “Well, when you choose to fly that flag, the reputation of what people do with that flag, both in the past and the present flies with you.”

Driver: “Pretty soon I am going to get a 3rd flag holder on my truck and I am going to put an American flag on there too.” 

Me: “Well, according to some people commenting on the post today, it seemed like they thought that was missing from your display.”

Driver: “Yeah, I’m going to do that, so….”

Me: “So, I don’t know where we go from here, really. You are well within your rights to fly the flag, but now you know how it makes mothers and children and community members feel. So, I guess you have to ask yourself if your rights are more important than the feelings of your neighbors.”

(more silence)

Me: “You have my number now, so, if you are somewhere and you are flying your flag and there are people that are angry, call me if you need to. Take care and have a good rest of your day.”

There you have it. A calm conversation chalk full of education and information. Now, the decision is his.

When someone takes the time to explain to us why our behavior is hurtful, we can choose to puff up our chest, hold on to our “rights” and chalk their feelings up to being a “snowflake” or “dwelling too much on the past”. Instead, let’s make the choice to apologize for the impact of our actions and lay down our rights for the sake of our love for our neighbors. Sounds like a mature, selfless decision to me!

It’s like my Dad says: “Do you want to be right or do you want to preserve the relationship?”

About the Author

Natalie Ringsmuth

Facebook

Natalie grew up in Central Minnesota and received her Music Education degree from Concordia College in Moorhead. She taught middle school choir in Georgia and worked in the church sector for over a decade. She now works as Executive Director of #unitecloud, a non-profit working to reduce racial, religious, and cultural tensions in Central MN and is a trainer with the CARE (Community Anti-Racism Education) Team at SCSU (St Cloud State University). She is a member of multiple boards, including the St Cloud School District 742 board, the United Way Community Impact Team, and the United Way's education initiative, Partner for Student Success. In her spare time (haha) she loves to spend time with her husband and 3 children, making music and playing games.