The Confederate flag and all that it stands for—racism, separation, White Supremacist thinking—has been a part of Southern American life since the South first waged war against the North in the mid 1800s.
Southern soldiers took the flag into war with them to express their solidarity against Northerners who opposed slavery. The Civil War tore the country apart, not only through bloodshed but hatred against black people. White Southerners needed to hang onto free slave labor which blacks supplied. They needed to justify holding black people against their will in order to make a profit. Their notion of white superiority was even backed by misinterpreted Bible scriptures to justify their acts. Scripture was misused to rationalize mistreating people, as they tried to convince themselves and others that blacks were not fully human.
America’s ugly racist past resurfaced last week when a white—and obviously deranged—young man went on a shooting spree in a predominately black church in Charleston, SC, killing nine innocent people. A tenth was shot, but survived.
By now, the story is well known, including the fact that Dylann Roof appears unremorseful and had posed for photos holding the Confederate flag. Since the shootings, state politicians have called for the removal of the flag from government facilities.
But while politicians debate over whether the flag should be removed, a three year-old boy named Parker did something really remarkable on Sunday (Father’s Day) that speaks more to the heart of what really needs to be done in South Carolina and the rest of the country.
Parker’s father, John Nettles, a professional photographer, walked with his family to Emanuel AME, the church where the murders took place. The boy saw two women—one black and one white—holding signs that offered free hugs to anyone who wanted one. I don’t think the boy can read, and I’m not sure if his mom told him what the signs said of if he just had a feeling this is what he needed to do. But young Parker ran past his father and grabbed the black woman, who bent down to receive his hug. The photo, captured by his dad, went viral, as well as these words posted on Facebook:
“This picture was hard to take and hard to edit… because Parker doesn't understand how powerful that hug is. To him it's just a hug. He doesn't understand that he's hugging a black woman and that he's a white boy. He doesn't understand that just last week there was another white boy who decided to murder several black people — just because they're black. To him, it's just a hug with another person. It's probably the most beautiful hug I've ever witnessed."
That one moment, that one innocent hug spoke volumes. It spoke louder than all the speeches and legislation that will go forth to have the flag removed. It’s significant because no law will ever replace genuine love and acceptance. You cannot legislate the heart.
I am all for banning the Confederate flag, especially on government property funded by taxpayer dollars. But I am more for being a human being and having enough compassion to transcend color—especially in light of the senseless, racist hate crime committed by Roof.
To Parker’s parents, I say well done. Thank you for allowing him the freedom to follow his natural instinct to love people – all people—and not editing his behavior by confining compassion to a certain group.
Prayers go out to everyone affected by this horrible crime in Charleston. Peace and blessings.