Taking that flag down won’t repair the Voting Rights Act, won’t bring justice for blacks shot at-will by law enforcement, won’t provide access to health care or solve any of the dozens of public policy issues. Taking down the flag only breeds resentment and suppresses racist attitudes such that, while not openly displayed, they smolder beneath the surface. The worst part about this terrible idea is this non-plan makes real racial problems that much harder to see. I’d much rather they left the flag alone. At least then I could see ‘em coming.
This is, first and foremost, a free speech issue.
Take away their flag, you erode our own rights. Our forefathers
(yes, ours; blacks fought in the Revolutionary War and on both sides
of the Civil War) fought and died to give each of us the right to
wave whatever flag we want. The prerequisite sacrifice for that
freedom is tolerance. Conservative Christians who run around trying
to disenfranchise and oppress people are completely twisted. Blacks
climbing flagpoles are equally wrongheaded. This is the core value
most everyone in America misinterprets: freedom isn’t about your
right to blast hip-hop. Freedom is about protecting the other guy’s
right to blast hip-hop. In protecting their freedom, we defend our
I should also pause partenthetically to mention the flag everyone (including the president) calls "The Confederate Flag" actually was never the official national flag of the Confederate States of America. It was submitted as a candidate but, ironically, was rejected. The actual "Confederate Flag" looks like this:
Designed by William Porcher Miles, the chairman of the Flag and Seal committee (see sidebar), the flag we think of as "The Confederate Flag" was rejected in 1861, and was later adopted as a battle flag by General Robert E. Lee, who was commanding the army of Northern Virginia. The flag never represented the Confederate States, nor even the Confederate Army. It literally represented Robert E. Lee and, by extension, his Northern Virginia Army, but over time became more popular than the official flag.
The great irony is, had South Carolina flown this flag on the grounds of its capitol, I doubt anyone would care. This flag has done what we are now trying to force the more popular rebel flag to do: fade into obscurity. This flag rightly and more accurately represents a symbol of slavery and oppression, but the rebel flag is the one to which we take offense.
The Southern Cross Battle Flag has only the meaning, only the power, that you give it. If you really want the flag to go away, stop giving it all this energy. Denying any person the right to the expression of their own identity, regardless of how we feel about it, is a slippery slope. We often lose sight of that slope as we rush headlong into some endorphin wave seeking quick solutions to complex national problems. The Charleston church massacre was, undeniably, a terribly tragic act of hate. That tragedy is now made that much worse by using those nine deaths to erode the very fabric of American democracy as, in lieu of any actual conversation on race, we instead now have this phony campaign against a piece of cloth.
If anything, this fad has given the Confederate flag even more prominence. Most people hardly thought of it at all until we started blaming it for the Charleston tragedy. The flag didn’t make Dylann Roof decide to shoot black people. Blaming the flag (or even, for that matter, the gun) gets us all off the hook for having to deal with real problems of mental illness and the culture of violence in this country. Instead of actually dealing with actual problems, we run around blaming objects and banning things, blind to the fact that when you ban something, you make it that much more important than it had been. A few weeks ago, this was just a flag. Yes, some if not most rabid racists used it as a banner but most of those really didn’t understand the historic significance or importance of the symbol. Similarly, a much larger number—dwarfing the racists—flew the Confederate flag in, frankly, disrespectful ways; wearing it on bikinis and tee-shirts and so forth, because they thought it was cool; a pop culture icon. Neither extreme honored that flag and neither extreme, frankly, even understood that flag.
Those truly disenfranchised are the minority of Confederate flag aficionados who are also history buffs; sons of the South who may or may not be any more or any less racist than the liberals demanding we ban the thing. Bree Newsom climbed a flagpole and ripped down the Confederate flag flying on the South Carolina state capitol war memorial—on hallowed ground—which was easily as wrong as some white lady marching onto my lawn and vandalizing my home because she doesn’t like my curtains. A local activist, Newsom obviously doesn’t see that her actions have strengthened the resolve of people who never gave that flag a second thought before, but they’ll be damned if some black woman is going to point fingers at them and call them racist. These people will dig in.
Similarly, the planned rally in support of the flag by the Ku Klux Klan is equally wrongheaded. Those guys should remain absolutely silent, as they are loathed by both supporters and opponents of the flag. This wave of anti-flag sentiment is galvanizing and uniting historic Southerners and raising important issues of constitutional free speech. The Klan showing up fairly makes our point for us as even the most ardent supporters of the Confederacy will be forced to admit that, in the wrong hands, the flag projects a terrible and hateful symbolism. I rush to say this is true of the American flag as well. I’m not sure what purpose the KKK’s demonstration is intended to achieve, but saving their beloved flag ain’t it.
Judging A Book by Its Cover: Are these men bigots? Should we assume so just because?
Dukes of Hazzard
The Confederate Battle Flag has never flown higher
or prouder than it has in recent days. It has exploded in popularity
as whites, feeling wrongfully accused and persecuted, have once
again drawn battle lines, rallying around a historical artifact the
overwhelming majority of them never gave much thought about: it was
simply there. Many if not most of these people never saw their flag
as a symbol of slavery; the flag was never created to be a symbol of
slavery but a symbol of independence. We connect the dots from here
to there to Confederate flag = Slavery by placing the flag in the
context of the Civil War and the Civil War in the context of
slavery. This is not an unreasonable interpretation but, just as
many rednecks wearing the flag on their butt or their license plate
never give a whole of thought as to the flag’s historical
significance, my guess is most blacks think only of racism when they
see that symbol while knowing nothing of its intended symbolism and
Caught in the middle are the southern purists who acknowledge the tragic wrongs of human enslavement while cherishing their identity as southerners. To them, the flag represents their heritage and identity, and I’d imagine many of them are incensed at both sides of what they perceive as a ridiculous struggle over a historical artifact. To most southern purists, both the neo-Nazi Klansman and the flagpole-climbing liberal activist are simply wrong. They are demonizing not only the flag but the south itself.
Full disclosure: the flag doesn’t bother me at all and never has. I, frankly, never associated the flag with slavery (as in, Confederate Flag = Slavery) until the news media made that association for me after the tragic Charleston church shootings. Until a few weeks ago, when I saw the Confederate flag, I thought “redneck,” not “racist.” Not every racist is a redneck, and not every redneck is a racist. I’ve known many rednecks and good ol’ boys who were never, in my presence or reported to me outside of it, seen behaving in any way racist. They didn’t care what color you were so long as you brought the beer. These guys loved their Confederate flag more as symbolic of the south than as a symbol of hatred. The redneck boys I knew thought the Ku Klux Klan were a bunch of idiots.
A young man who lived down the street used to have a big garrison stars and bars tacked to the bed of his pickup truck. I never once got a racist vibe from this kid, who was always friendly and helpful, and, to me, his flag said “Dukes of Hazzard” more than David Duke. Taking it a step farther: even if this kid was a tatted-up skinhead: what do I care? So long as he didn’t come ‘round my place tripping, I say live and let live. Policing people’s thoughts and try to force people to think in a certain way is beyond stupid. People are going to be who they are. While I’m sure some people who wave that flag are race-hating psychos, that’s still no reason to blame the flag itself.
What Have We Accomplished?
Taking that flag down will not bring back a single one of the nine
victims of the Emanuel AME shooting, nor will it in any way ease the
suffering of their families. Taking down the flag won’t repair the Voting Rights Act the Supreme
Court gutted in 2013, won’t bring justice for the growing numbers of
African Americans seemingly shot at-will by law enforcement, won’t
provide access to health care or solve any of the dozens of public
policy issues dividing this nation. Even worse, taking down the flag
will provide some in White America with an inappropriate sense of
closure, which may cause some to respond to these public policy
issues, “We gave up our flag, that’s all you get,” as if taking the
flag down actually accomplished anything. Taking down the flag only breeds
resentment and suppresses racist attitudes such that, while not
openly displayed, they smolder beneath the surface. The worst part
about this non-plan is stigmatizing the flag makes real racial
problems that much harder to see. I’d much rather they left the flag
alone; at least then I could see ‘em coming.
In the film, Wag The Dog, the entire nation goes into mourning for a fictitious, invented soldier dubbed “Old Shoe” in order to change the national conversation away from a controversial subject. That’s what this flag business is. And, the diversion has done its work: nobody’s even *talking* about race now. They got us. They shut us up. Black America high-fiving and congratulating ourselves without realizing we've achieved absolutely nothing. Mission accomplished.
If we really wanted to strip the Confederate flag of power, we’d just stop talking about it. We’d let it fade into obscurity as what it factually is: an icon of southern antiquity. By using the Confederate flag as a prop to avoid actually talking to each other and engaging on serious problems of society, we shame not only that flag but our own.
Christopher J. Priest
5 July 2015
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