Mixed Emotions Over Confederate Flag In Champaign
The debate about the Confederate flag is happening across the county, but the flag has different meanings to different residents in Champaign.
Two years ago, Marsha Hatfield moved from Chicago to the north side of Champaign to be with her daughter and grandchildren when she noticed her next door neighbor had a Confederate flag hanging in the front window of their home.
Hatfield said she first noticed the flag when she was driving to her home.
“One day I was driving and it was like, ‘Oh… Okay?!’ But, it’s free speech if that’s what they want in their window. I mean I’m not going to picket for them to take it down. That’s on them. I might not like it, but there’s a lot of things in the world you don’t like and you just keep movin’.. keep it movin.,’” she said.
But it means something different to William Currie, who lives in the same neighborhood.
“To me it mean they racist… and I don’t wanna have nothing to do with them, but everyone in the neighborhood just know like, stay away from him and he can stay away from us. It hurts, its hurtful. Me: What do you wish he would do? William: He should probably take it down.”
The owner of the flag refused to comment.
Across Champaign, a couple raised a Confederate flag in the front yard two weeks following shooting in Charleston, South Carolina where a gunman opened fire in a historic African-American church killing nine people.
The couple reportedly took the flag down after several neighbors complained.
I reached out to the owner of the flag, but they declined to be interviewed.
Journalist Chris Benson writes about hate crimes and race for the Chicago Reporter.
He says the meaning of the Confederate flag has changed throughout history.
“We have to see a Confederate flag as a narrative text, there is an assertion on the one hand that the confederate flag is a symbol of cultural pride, heritage… when you consider that it’s also tied to rebellion, arguably to treason, you come up with a different narrative.”
Benson said as a symbol the flag existed after the Civil War, but was largely dormant for several years.
“It was resurrected in an intense way during the Civil Rights Movement and the text there is one of resistance to progress, freedom, justice and equality in this country.”
However, there are vastly different narratives about what this flag means (both privately and publicly) today.
“You have to understand it from an African-American experience," said Benson, "this is where we get into this duality of perception and experience in our society. You know what is reality? Is it what I perceive, is it what you perceive? Certainly my lived experience is going to color my perception.”
According to Benson, recognizing the reality of race is a challenge.
“I think what we have to recognize is that race is a reality in America, and I think the problem that we face is that people don’t recognize it, they deny its existence, they deny the consequences of its existence, and that limits our ability to enter into a dialogue about race.”
But there are roadblocks to starting a real dialogue about the realities of race and racism in America today. Benson said that understanding the lived experiences of others is crucial to starting the conversation.
“People are not listening to each other across racial lines. To dismiss African American reaction as hypersensitivity is to offend a person who has suffered indignity. So we have to acknowledge that it exists and then begin to open a dialogue that is non-threatening in order to reach a deeper and more meaningful understanding."