When I entered the University of Georgia back in the dark ages, female students were required to wear skirts or dresses in public, cover their gym shorts with a raincoat when walking to physical education, and return to the dorm by 11:30 on weeknights. The men were under no such restrictions. During a seminar in graduate school where I was the only female, the professor looked me in the eye and said, "I don't like to give degrees to women. They're just going to drape them across some man's kitchen stove."
So I have a head start in putting myself in the shoes of people whose dignity and rights are discounted.
The willingness to try to understand an opponent's point of view hastens a resolution to the issue at hand. Like the Confederate flag controversy. Should public/governmental institutions fly the flag? Or should such institutions relegate the flag to a museum?
An analogy from the cultural past of white people might illuminate the situation for those who maintain that the flag merely represents history and heritage:
Back in the day, women were largely regarded as sex objects, best employed as homemakers, nurses or teachers. For the sake of argument, let's say that the symbol of this prevalent philosophy was the Playboy bunny, and its figurehead, Hugh Hefner. Flags bearing the iconic bunny flew over state capitols, or fluttered alongside statues of Mr. Hefner on courthouse lawns. Lawmakers slumbered, indifferent to the symbols' inherent marginalization of half the country's citizens.
Women, fed up with second-class status, put the government, and society, on notice. Decades later, the equality of women is recognized by the state, if not always followed to the letter in private transactions. Bred in the bone philosophies are not quickly discarded. But the symbols of such backward beliefs can certainly be removed from places of honor in public spaces.
Can one imagine a Playboy flag flying alongside Hefner's statue on a statehouse lawn? I doubt that women would buy the argument that the flag simply represents a bygone era in our national culture or a pride in the manliness of one's forebears.
Granted, the analogy is not exact. Women were never bought and sold like cattle, forced into backbreaking labor. Women were not seized in the dead of night by hooded men and lynched for violating white cultural norms. Never shoved to the back of the bus, never refused service at restaurants.
And Hugh Hefner cannot compare to the courageous soldiers of the Confederacy.
But try substituting the word "African-American" for "women" in the scenario above. Who can pretend not to understand the objection of blacks to the Confederate flag flying on public lands?
Attitudes change over time, mostly for the better. It takes a lot of dialog, as we're proving right now. But we come to the place of justice sooner if we are willing to do the difficult mental work required to see things from our opponents' point of view, instead of doggedly defending our own.
Deep below the Mason-Dixon line, one sees bumper stickers proclaiming "American by birth, Southern by the grace of God." But we are Americans first, and by our very nature we take exception to injustice.
We will do the right thing. But it is tragic that it took the horrendous slaughter in Charleston to shame us into it.