Tuesday, August 9, 2016

253. Does flag boycott hurt more than it helps?

So the question is, what part of the mission of the Lorain County Board of Mental Health or the Community Foundation of Lorain County is dedicated to telling the Lorain County Fair Board which vendors may participate in their event?

Before tackling that question, perhaps we need to start at the beginning. The Confederate flag, at the heart of the issue, historically symbolized the South’s efforts to break away from the union and create their own country. While slavery was at the heart of the issue, there is controversially much more to the war — such as states’ rights. Inherent in the repugnant institute of slavery is the profitability of free labor and neither southerners nor northerners were immune to exploiting that, which created maximum earnings. The most recognized Confederate flag came to unofficially represent the Confederate States of America during the Civil War, where thousands died in America’s bloodiest war.

Unfortunately, the flag now means different things to different people. However, especially in context, it is now regarded as both a symbol of slavery, oppression, hate, and white supremacy, and a source of southern pride. In fact, in a 2015 CNN poll, a slight majority of Americans (57 percent) saw the flag as a source of southern pride rather than racism. I appreciate the historic and cultural context but admit that I see it as more as an instrument of racism.

But back to the fair. As it has been reported, the mental health board and Community Foundation are boycotting the fair because it accepted vendors that plan to sell the Confederate flag.

I have to admit that I am having trouble reconciling why a government social welfare entity and community foundation are engaged in a political protest. Their missions are to help people and their involvement in the fair does just that. The fair regularly brings in more than 100,000 participants from all across the county and outside areas. It is a great opportunity to reach an incredible amount of people in a short period of time.

That the mental health board, in particular, would turn down that sort of outreach to make a political statement seems outside of its social responsibility. Now more than ever, with the increase in mental health issues, including those that lead to mass shootings such as the one in Charleston, S.C., it seems we need to make more mental health services available. In other words, if the Charleston incident triggered this boycott, doesn’t it seem like people may need mental health services more than ever?

The argument that by permitting these vendors the fair board is “endorsing” them or “approving” of them is quite disingenuous. In addition, the fair board makes a good point: Why wasn’t the flag so offensive last year or the 30 years before it? This seems much more like a political opportunity than a moral stance.

The responsibility of community organizations is to help people and by boycotting the fair, the mental health board and Community Foundation are only hurting the community and children that they have traditionally served. Furthermore, I wonder, does the mental health board plan to turn away services for individuals wearing a Confederate flag t-shirt? Is the Community Foundation going to subject all grant recipients to a moral test on an individual level?

I would not be upset if the fair board decided to ban Confederate flag sales in the future. However, I would prefer that those attending the fair would decide the issue for them by making the venture unprofitable for these vendors. It seems that we all love free markets and free speech until it interferes with our beliefs.

Believe me, there are plenty of things I find morally offensive at the fair. There are of course the animals, as I am not a supporter of the way most farm animals are raised and slaughtered. Chief Wahoo is certainly a symbol of racism and is seen by many to represent the atrocities that early Americans committed against Indians. The chocolate candy/fudge could have been derived from child labor in the Ivory Coast or maybe there are even some blood diamonds being sold by jewelry vendors. By not boycotting these issues, do the mental health board and Community Foundation support these moral tribulations?

Of course, both have the right to attend or not attend any event they wish — and that includes the fair. I fully support that right, it’s just that in this case it seems like the negative impact of their political stance is greater than the benefits it could provide to the community.

As a stubborn teenager, my mom used to tell me, “Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.” It seems that the mental health board and Community Foundation could borrow some of her wisdom.

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