I was saddened and disappointed at the Tupper Lake town board’s decision to be silent on whether displaying the Confederate flag on one’s private property is in the interest of the community.
I make no judgments about the rights of individuals to do so. It’s their property, and the last time I checked, the First Amendment was still on the books. They have the right to fly whatever flag they want. Moreover, I have no crystal ball that enables me to predict exactly how flying this flag might impact the economic vitality of Tupper Lake. A casual drive through town will show that American flags outnumber Confederate flags by 50 to 1. Tupper Lake will probably be fine.
But I do think that the board missed an opportunity to do what has become increasingly difficult in this country, and that is have a reasonable, respectful conversation about race, racism and justice in our country.
I love Tupper Lake. I have lived here for 45 years, raised my family here. This town has been good to me. Unlike Tupper Lake, the town I grew up in on Long Island was and is racially diverse. Whites make up only 52% of the population. Blacks and Hispanics make up most of the remaining 48%. So growing up was different.
I went to St. Patrick’s elementary school. It was run by the Sisters of Mercy. Classes were large. The nuns were strict. We had to wear uniforms, and I got a great education. I loved the place. There was no cafeteria, no athletic fields, no gym and not one Black or Hispanic student that I remember. It never occurred to me as a kid to ask why not. There are Catholic schools all over the world with Black students. Catholics — me included — are not inherently racist, but this was 1956 in the suburbs of Long Island.
My neighborhood was white. Blacks lived in other neighborhoods. Some were very close by. We went to public high school together. We played sports together. We did not party together. We did not go to each other’s houses, join each other’s beach clubs or date each other. We just didn’t. I was swimming in an ocean of racism that was soaked into every fabric of my culture.
I later learned that Blacks could not live where I lived because they were red-lined out by banks and mortgage brokers who would not lend money to them for fear that the white people would leave, the neighborhood would go Black, housing values would go down, and the banks would get left holding bad mortgages. My dad was a landlord. He rented an apartment upstairs in our house. He would not rent to Black people. The apartment was illegal, and he did not want “angry neighbors” to turn him in.
I am sure I used the N-word, laughed at racist jokes and maybe even told some. I don’t anymore. I am not perfect, but I am no longer a clueless kid.
My beautiful daughter lives in Brooklyn. She lives and breathes in a world that I never did. She has Black friends. She dates Black men. She grew up here in Tupper Lake. She does not have a racist bone in her body. But she would be ashamed of me if I did not say that the Confederate flags flying on the house up the street from me are hurtful and offensive. I am pretty sure many people in Tupper and most Black people in the country feel the same way. After all, the government that last flew that flag considered Black Americans property to be bought and sold like cattle. The government that flew the Confederate flag did so as traitors to the U.S. government and fought a war to preserve their right to continue slavery. So I would hope that we can all be understanding if seeing it in 2020 creates some bad feeling among some of us who live here.
I am not labeling or judging anyone’s motivation in flying that flag, but it’s really too bad that we can’t even talk about it.
Jerry Goldman lives in Tupper Lake.