Thanks to political correctness, I can no longer converse freely with my three adult children. I live in the South; they’ve scattered across the country. I think I’m a good person. No one has ever called me racist — except my children. When I was young, my parents hung a Confederate flag in our home. I remember it fondly because I remember them fondly. Recently, our town removed a Confederate statue from our cemetery. When I lament these changes, my children get furious with me. But it’s my opinion. I also believe black people deserve equal rights. Doesn’t freedom of speech exist anymore?
Freedom of speech lives! No one is stopping you from flying a Confederate flag on your private property or longing for one. Many people have taken them down, though, because fond memories of childhood (like yours) are dwarfed by the flag’s brutal history in the war against slavery and its celebration of legal racism.
I suspect your children are frustrated with you for prioritizing fuzzy nostalgia over racial atrocity. They would probably like you to be more sensitive to the pain Confederate symbols can trigger in others. (That may also be why your town removed its Confederate statue from public land.)
Now, pinning this conflict on “political correctness” implies that your children are being insincere or oversensitive. But how could routine encounters with such memorabilia not provoke stinging reminders, for many, about the cruelty of slavery and the continuing inequality of black Americans in so many arenas?
A likelier reading, to me, is that you want the freedom to speak and also the freedom to silence other people’s reactions to what you’ve said. But that’s not how freedom works! No one is silencing you. Your kids are just asking you to focus on the bigger picture, beyond yourself and your childhood, with greater sensitivity to others.
While We’re on the Subject of Flags
I love flags. We display a variety of them outside our suburban home: the American flag, the French flag on Bastille Day, the flag of Baltimore when the president trashed that city. This month, we have gay pride and transgender flags up. It’s my way of stating my beliefs. I would love to put up a Black Lives Matter flag, but as a white person, I want to be appropriately supportive and not an appropriator. Thoughts?
Fly all your flags! You hang them in solidarity with people and causes you believe in. Saying that black lives matter, whether on a T-shirt, a flag or a tattoo, is a statement of support and totally appropriate for an ally. Appropriation would be claiming the experience of racial oppression as your own. That’s not what you’re doing here.
Social Distancing, One Year In
My nephew and his fiancée were planning a big wedding in July. It was hard for them to give up the idea, but they decided to have a small backyard wedding on the original date and throw a big party next year. There will be 25 guests at the wedding and a dinner afterward. I know this has been stressful for them. When I jokingly asked if this would be a masked wedding, my nephew said they hadn’t thought about it. I don’t want to add to their stress, but my husband and I are at a higher risk of severe illness from the coronavirus. I don’t want to stand to the side during the ceremony and dinner. How should I ask about their social distancing plans?
Be direct. And knock off the jokes this time. (It sends a mixed message about your seriousness.) Stressed or not, being a responsible host these days requires a plan for masks and social distancing. If the bridal couple doesn’t have one a month before the wedding, or if their plan makes you uneasy, decline the invitation nicely.
We’re all in different circumstances and have different comfort levels with safety precautions. (Personally, I don’t see myself at a gathering for 25 anytime soon, and I don’t apologize for that.) Prioritizing your health is sensible. Don’t negotiate, though. It’s not your party. Just clarify the hosts’ plans, then accept or refuse the invitation politely.
Eco-Friendly Gift or No Gift
I was invited to a friend’s baby shower that was canceled because of the pandemic. I’d like to send a gift, but I was disappointed to see her registry is full of conventional disposable diapers. I get that cloth diapers aren’t for everyone, but my friend can afford disposable diapers that are biodegradable. Would it be passive-aggressive to send eco-friendly disposable diapers, or should I buy something from the registry? (Honestly, the alternative is to send nothing. I am low-key outraged by people who ignore their basic moral responsibility to take care of our planet.)
Whoa! I was right with you until your outrage kicked in. Wouldn’t it be more effective to send a box of eco-friendly diapers with a nice note about why you prefer them? A first-time mother-to-be may not have given much thought to diapers. You’d be doing her (and our planet) a favor by explaining your position. And keep the righteousness to a minimum.
For help with your awkward situation, send a question to [email protected], to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.