The most telling line in the celebrated and supposedly morally powerful novel and movie about race and justice, To Kill a Mockingbird, is when the dad, Atticus Finch, tells his daughter not to use the “n” word.
The line has been lauded more than 50 years, but his reasoning is wrong. “Don’t say [it]. It’s common,” he explains.
Our celebration of Atticus Finch is why the hosts of “Fox and Friends” can feign outrage about the movement to rid America of the Confederate flag. The subject on this Sunday’s show was a decision by a school district in Tennessee to ban banners, including the Confederate flag, from display at its schools. The schools will still fly the American flag on flag poles.
Here’s what co-host Tucker Carlson said, “This is a about a long-term trend where the people who run everything — the elites in Washington, New York, and L.A. — despise rural America and its culture, suspect anybody who doesn’t live in their cities of being a bigot, and they’re trying to crush that culture by banning its symbols.”
It’s a ridiculous argument, except for its grain of truth.
Quite a few people who hold liberal views do think the Confederate flag is a sign of ignorance or poor education or hillbilly culture. It’s not. Nor is it “common.” And it never was. Slavery was a product of educated elites, not country folk. Slavery paid major dividends to a few predatory families. Everyone else—the enslaved workers and anyone whose labor competed with them—lived in dirt-road hand-to-mouth poverty.
The flag of the Confederacy is an ugly and violent symbol of a landed gentry in America. It’s the opposite of democracy and patriotism. That’s why it’s offensive. The same goes for the “n” word.