I touched on this subject in my last post and I guess I didn’t get it all out of my system (as is often the case). I’d like to take a moment to counter all of the misguided and ignorant arguments in defense of the Confederate flag. If you live in America (and probably even if you don’t) you would be hard pressed to have missed the commotion recently about a particular symbol from American history: The battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, or as most people know it, either the Confederate flag or the Rebel flag.
The issue returned to the national spotlight due to the horrible slaying of nine people in South Carolina by a hateful and racist young man. One of the most popular photos of him shows him kneeling next to the Confederate flag. This opened wounds for many who view the flag as a symbol that represents a time in our country when many tried to protect the institution of human slavery. It also represents the single greatest divide in our country’s history that ultimately led to a bloody war that killed over half a million citizens.
Naturally, a symbol that elicits this kind of idealism, this dark chapter of history is not one that should be popular. One might think that there would be unanimous agreement to retire this flag and let the negative connotations associated with it die away, but if one assumed that, one would be terribly and sadly wrong. The defenders of the flag have been voicing their opposition quite rabidly to the vitriol surrounding this icon. For example, I pulled these from Facebook:
There is a website that allegedly tries to dispel the “myths” about the flag. It decidedly takes a “pro-flag” stance and while many of the statements are technically correct, the conclusions are false or misleading. Upon further examination, Snopes.com (a site I feel is a bit more reputable in searching for objective information) examines some of the “dispelled myths” from the first site and clarifies their conclusions. Here is an excerpt:
The primary arguments I hear from the “Pro-Confederate-Flag” folks is that the flag does not represent slavery or hatred, but rather, it’s a symbol of Southern Heritage. I won’t argue this point, but I will extend the thought to its rightful conclusion. The flag is a symbol of the Southern Heritage of treason and human slavery.
John E. Price wrote an article for the Huffington Post that clarifies this statement. I would like to borrow a segment of his article to eloquently and accurately defend my own position:
“The Civil War was about economics, not slavery!
- Yes, the Civil War was about the economics of slavery.
The Civil War was about states’ rights, not slavery!
- Yes, the Civil War was about the states’ right to maintain slavery.
That’s not the Confederate flag!
- True, it’s the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, which actually makes your usage even worse. It’s the banner under which men fought and died to enact secession.
Heritage not hate!
Funny story: The heritage is hate. This is my favorite talking point because it sets up a false dichotomy and then tries to pretend ‘heritage’ is a signifier for some romantic, noble culture just waiting to be recaptured. When Lindsay Graham says things like, ‘The flag represents to some people a civil war, and that was the symbol of one side. To others it’s a racist symbol, and it’s been used by people, it’s been used in a racist way,’ he makes a mockery of the history. Yes, Senator, it does represent one side of the Civil War: the side that advocated slavery and secession. It’s the flag of treason.”
Let me take a moment to examine another perspective in this topic. I have sought in this article to clarify the history of the Rebel flag and crush any false arguments that are made against those who claim that it’s a racist symbol. None the less, let us be clear on the nature of symbolism. The Confederate flag, just like the Nazi swastika and so many other symbols, represent whatever ideas, institutions or paradigms we choose. Symbols, like words, only have meaning if we imbue them with such and those meanings can change over time. Some of the defenders of the flag may not view it in the same way that the opposition does and are confused by the fervor in which many others have attacked it. This is most likely due to their lack of understanding of the true history of the flag and all that it represented in a time when the atrocity of slavery was still very real. In light of this, I think it’s fair to say that not all who defend the Confederate flag are racist.
Regrettably, as Dylann Roof demonstrated in the most awful way possible, there are still many who proudly brandish the flag as a clear way of announcing to the world their racist perspective. Because of this, the backlash has been powerful. Those who defend the flag must understand this.
As I stated in my previous article, A Slice of Tolerance, I do not advocate any legal prohibition of the flag (and to the best of my knowledge, there is no serious proposal to do so) as it falls under the protection of the First Amendment. Anyone is free to privately fly the flag, although they are not free from the consequences of such an action. They must understand the scorn and ridicule they may face by doing so (I would hope that scorn would never take the form of violence). Moreover, private companies are free to discontinue the sale of items with any objectionable imagery they choose (and in the case of the Confederate flag, many have already done so).
Note that I said I have no issue with flying the flag privately. The primary issue making news today is the decision by the state of South Carolina to fly this flag at the capital building, a public, government facility. This is unacceptable and there can be no argument of any merit to defend the proud display of the flag in such a venue. For those that argue this is a political issue and that only liberals argue for the removal of the flag, some prominent Republicans like Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush have also publicly denounced the flying of the flag at the S.C. capital.
I won’t be flying the Rebel flag in my lifetime. I don’t like what it represents to me. I oppose the use of the flag in any public area such as parks, rest areas, government buildings, etc. I doubt I will look favorably upon anyone that proudly displays such an icon in any fashion, but I will support the right of those to fly the flag privately if they so choose. This is the price of the First Amendment. True freedom of speech protects all ideas, even those with which we may not support or agree. So fly your “Southern Heritage” flag if you choose. You have that right. Just be sure you are making an informed decision before doing so.
[One final thought that I wanted to explore but didn’t, as I feared it would disrupt the flow of the article: While I understand a private company is free to discontinue selling products they find objectionable, I do find it curious that a company like Amazon would ban the sale of any Confederate flag merchandise, but still freely sell Nazi paraphernalia with the swastika on it. I realize the swastika is an ancient symbol that held no ill connotations until the Nazi stigmatization during WWII, but if a company is going to make a social statement by their ban of the Confederate flag, why allow other “objectionable” merchandise to be sold? Surely Nazi Germany has a place in world history as dark as that of the American Civil War?
I’m not sure where I stand on the ban of sale of “objectionable” merchandise. On one hand, I can see that a publicly traded company would not want to project the image that they support racism through the sale of items with negative symbolic connotations, but if you’re going to take that route, why not apply the principle evenly? I would be interested in any attempt to explain this.]