Dear Gentlemen,

I'm going to assume by the amount of Confederate flags you had hoisted on the backs of your loaded, raised, and noisy pickup trucks that you are Southern-born and bred.  The five or six of you were walking so casually in the parking lot towards your trucks last Sunday afternoon with your jeans and boots in the 90+ degrees heat.  I had come to town to meet my friend for dinner with our little girls and I was looking for a parking spot at the mall.  There was one spot very close to the entrance and I made my way to the spot when I saw something that made me change my mind.

As you all were walking to your trucks, I saw some other gentlemen walking out of the mall.  When they saw you, they stopped in their tracks and watched you go.  You noticed these men as well, and all made a point to turn and smirk at them.  These men were not the same race as you, and your face made it clear that you were proud of your Southern-selves and of your trucks with flags.  You kept smiling and looking back over your shoulder at the other men as you continued walking.

I saw a lot of emotions on the men's faces, and I know you saw it, too.

It was a clear transition from shock to anger to rage.  

And you kept smiling and walking and laughing like everything was fine. 

My instincts told me to drive slowly to a different spot, a few lanes over and wait for a few moments.  My friend hadn't arrived yet, and I wanted to make sure things were safe in the parking lot before I got out of my vehicle with my youngest daughter.  You can call me paranoid, but I didn't want to be in the middle of angry young men.  The first group of men got into their trucks and drove away with their loud pipes and big tires.  There was one truck with flags still in the parking lot, but no one was getting into that truck.  

The second group of men stood in the parking lot by their respective cars and watched the trucks leave.  It was clear they were angry by what had just taken place.  They were speaking to one another, their faces were sour, and then my friend pulled up into the parking lot with her children and two of mine.  I made casual mention that she had just missed some action and that I would tell her when we were seated at the restaurant inside the mall.  

It took a while to be seated and as we were having our drink orders taken by the waitress, a large commotion began at the long table directly behind ours.  There was a group of about 6 gentlemen (and one lady) and half of the table suddenly got up and began shouting "they've got our flag!" and went running at full speed out of the doors towards the parking lot.  They were yelling and chasing down some men in the parking lot.  The lady was yelling about someone not letting someone get in trouble, and an older gentleman remained at the table.  

Apparently the gentlemen running into the parking lot were the owners of the remaining truck.  

Everyone in the restaurant was silent--which was a miracle considering this was a sports-themed establishment.  Everyone watched the men run into the parking lot and then we heard the profanity-laced comments from their party who remained at the table.  

I won't lie, my initial reaction was fear.  Fear for my girls, who were completely oblivious to what was happening as they were playing a trivia game on the tablets provided by the restaurant.  Fear for retaliation as we were sitting near floor-to-ceiling windows and in between both doors.  Fear that this was the kind of situation that could get very ugly, very quickly.

My friend and I had a brief "should we leave?" conversation and decided to stay since the mall had closed for the evening, and because our cars were parked in the middle of the action.  At this point, security had arrived, and the gentlemen had come back into the restaurant to collect their food orders and to sit on the patio (to watch their truck I presume).  The local police department also arrived and stood with the gentlemen in the patio--taking down information and waiting until they had finished their meal.  Tensions seemed to have subsided and it ended up being a nice meal with our friends.

But, gentlemen, I want you to understand something.  I believe firmly in your right to fly your flags and to rally together, but I also believe in people's rights to be offended by, and even scared of, what you are doing.  I know that flag means something to you, and I know you are fiercely proud of your roots, and I know that you are just some good ol' boys.

But, as one Southern person to another, please, for the love, quit messin' it up for the rest of us.    

I love the South as much as anyone else, but your behavior is embarrassing (and sometimes threatening) the rest of us.  We live and work and worship in a region that is supposed to be known for its warmth and hospitality.  We were raised with manners and respect for our elders.  Our mamas taught us that we act differently in public--you might want to hoot and holler and act crazy at the house, but when you come to town you are supposed to act like you've had some home-training.  

Those boots and belt-buckles might make you feel brave, but you're just being obnoxious.  

And yes, the gentlemen in the parking lot had every right to be offended and angry, but they didn't have a right to steal your flag.  I understand your anger and frustration over that one.  But if you lock your car because you don't want anyone to steal your sweet stereo or valuables inside, then why, pray tell, would you leave your precious flag out on the back of your truck?  Doesn't it seem like that's just inviting someone to take it?  

Gentlemen, I want you to be proud of your heritage.  I want you to have respect for your roots and for your country.  But, I also want you to quit acting like a bunch of idiots and take your flags somewhere else.  You may not be afraid and you may be ready for an altercation at the mall parking lot--but my girls and I would like to be able to shop and dine in peace without worrying about you doing something that could get someone killed.  

Mama A, Southern Lady

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