Ever since a racist young man killed nine members of an historic North Carolina church, the confederate flag has become an important debate, and we’ve been asking a lot of important questions. Is it racist? Should it be flown at a state capital?
The debate and these events are important not merely because of the flag itself but the history and culture surrounding it and because of the responses these events and questions engender from proponents of the flag.
There are some who assert that the Confederate flag is not racist and not offensive. That assertion is often back-pedalled to, “okay it’s not offensive in MY case because I am not a racist and I’m concerned only with the rich tradition of southern culture that the flag represents.”
Bullshit. This flag overwhelmingly represents both subjugation of blacks and white supremacy, and people who persist in supporting it are revealing either their ignorance or their support of white supremacy. I am NOT saying that everyone that honors or displays the confederate flag is racist, but I am saying they are wrong to claim the flag is not racist because they are not racist.
The flag was designed as a symbol of white supremacy, its continued use was for the purpose of advertising or promoting white supremacy, for terrorizing blacks, and in response to the advancement of civil rights.
The Confederate Flag is about Heritage
Many of the people that insist neither they nor the flag are racist are strong advocates–formally or informally of white pride or supremacy, and white pride is no different than racism.
You can bear witness to these questions: Why is being proud of being white racist? How am I racist for white pride but that guy isn’t racist for his black pride or his hispanic pride? There are two important answers to this. Read my article, White Pride is racism for an explanation of that.
The current debate about and around the flag is about more than just the confederate flag. It is about the choices that those who support and display the flag, inside and outside of government, make in response to social pressures. –choices driven by ignorance, racism, or unwillingness to acknowledge the great cultural damage of artifacts like the confederate flag.
Let’s strip away all of the arguments, all of the dark corners people rationalize themselves into.
Bless Your Heart, Asshole.
The south is frequently the butt of jokes. I have heard southerners complain (and I have seen the evidence to support it) about this phenomenon of people tying the southern accent into imitations of stupid people. Someone makes fun of someone else’s intelligence and adds a southern accent to complete the picture. Why is it that we seem to mock the south so often? I think I’d be adding to the problem if I tried to think of reasons for this, and I don’t think it matters. If people have an idea that southerners are ignorant because of any examples in their life or in news or culture, they’re demonstrating the exact same prejudice that people succumb to who decide all blacks are BLANK because of BLANK.
Many southern whites feel they’re being marginalized. This seems to be part of the sentiment behind the use of the confederate flag as a sort of real-world trolling, a fuck you (or “bless your heart… asshole”) to the rest of the country, and they say that pridefully brandishing that flag is certainly better than how blacks respond to injustice, by engaging in violence against white people.
But that’s bullshit. According to the FBIs 2012 hate crime statistics, “law enforcement agencies reported that 3,297 single-bias hate crime offenses were racially motivated. Of these offenses 66.1 percent were motivated by anti-black bias [and] 22.4 percent stemmed from anti-white bias.” If you want to respond with some muttering epithet about the Obama administration ginning up the numbers, the numbers haven’t changed much over time, including throughout the Bush administration.
The Flag is Not About Racism, It’s about State’s Rights.
Is there anybody that doesn’t know that slavery was the lynch-pin of the schism that led to the civil war? It was. You don’t need to take me word for it. Here is an excerpt from Texas’ declaration of secession from the United States. (Why they were doing the thing that led to the Civil War.)
That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding States.
Meaning, whites are all equal and should have equal access to free black labor.
Here are excerpts from South Carolina’s declaration of secession
“The people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, on the 26th day of April, A.D., 1852, declared that the frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States, by the Federal Government, and its encroachments upon the reserved rights of the States, fully justified this State in then withdrawing from the Federal Union; but in deference to the opinions and wishes of the other slaveholding States, she forbore at that time to exercise this right. Since that time, these encroachments have continued to increase, and further forbearance ceases to be a virtue.
“…an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution. The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them. In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed, and in none of them has the State Government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution. The State of New Jersey, at an early day, passed a law in conformity with her constitutional obligation; but the current of anti-slavery feeling has led her more recently to enact laws which render inoperative the remedies provided by her own law and by the laws of Congress. In the State of New York even the right of transit for a slave has been denied by her tribunals; and the States of Ohio and Iowa have refused to surrender to justice fugitives charged with murder, and with inciting servile insurrection in the State of Virginia. Thus the constituted compact has been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding States, and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation.”
First they say the federal government is encroaching upon the rights of the states. Then they say that the northern states don’t cooperate with the Fugitive Slave act and send black slaves back to the south and should be compelled to do so by the federal government.
If you consider black slaves to be purely commercial property, then the northern states are interfering with agreed upon practices of interstate commerce. However, if you stand with the federal government in progressive moves to start considering African Americans as honest to goodness people, then it isn’t an issue of commerce but… you know… black people are not fucking farm equipment.
The North Didn’t Care About Slavery
Let’s be honest, one of the main motivations of the north was not to lose the states that were providing a lion’s share of the agricultural commodities, but they wouldn’t be losing the southern states if they weren’t interfering in the slave trade. The southern states relied upon slavery to maintain their standards of living and the backbone of their economy and culture, and the northern states were interfering with that.
On one level that’s fucked up (the level where we think of African Americans as equal to cattle and farm equipment, as property of rich, southern white men ). The northern states were making decisions that mainly affected the southern states. But when we factor reality, i.e. the south was kidnapping, enslaving, torturing, and killing men and women, the the idea that the south had any legitimate motive for secession is parallel to the idea that a serial could sue the federal government for having the hubris to lock him up for killing and mutilating young women.
The flag is the symbol of the south, of the confederated states.
The flag was used by one army division, the army of General Lee. It had no relation to the confederacy proper–to the Confederate nation.
The actual flag of the confederate states.
The second official confederate flag, called “the white man’s flag” by its creator is above.
Here is a statement from the man who designed the flag found in the book Our Flag, by George Preble, published in 1872.
We are fighting to maintain the heaven ordained supremacy of the white man.
This, the third flag, called the blood-stained flag, was adopted because the previous flag looked too much like a white flag of surrender when it was hanging limp and unfurled.
Ultimately, it’s good they flew the white flag.
After the war, the confederate flag was largely ignored, until…
The flag can be separated from racism.
Every part of the flag’s history was motivated by racism. The confederate flag is frequently used by hate groups and white supremacy groups. I would argue that the only time these groups don’t blatantly display the flag is when they are trying to be more discreet regarding their true mission statement, which they wouldn’t do if the flag weren’t widely considered a hate symbol.
Do you want to share such a controversial symbol with such controversial groups if you really think it’s about the part of southern tradition that completely swerves around the controversy. Do you get that it’s not okay just because you want it to be okay.
The people that insist that the flag is about things other than hate, that it is divorced of that large and prevalent part of the tradition, are trying to create a narrative that doesn’t exist for anybody but them.
An Overwhelming Majority of Southerners Did Not Own Slaves.
Yeah? And? Specious arguments do not change the facts that inform the arguments at the center of this debate.
An overwhelming majority of Conservatives do not benefit in ANY way from republican policy, but they still support their party as their party ignores them and panders to the rich and to multinational corporations that have absolutely zero American identity or loyalty. The only thing the very real fact that only between 9%-25% of southerners owned slaves (the real number is too hard to pin down) proves is that people can be persuaded, easily, to act against their own best interests.
But it’s not that simple. Even though many southerners didn’t own slaves, they still benefited from slavery. Pay attention to any minimum wage debate ever, and the most salient point the anti-minimum-wage proponents make is that costs will be driven up if wages are increased. Imagine how much costs could go up if you suddenly have to actually pay your workforce.
And by the way, you’re workforce is going to evaporate in a cloud of the dust that was their sweltering living conditions. “I still remember the time you whipped me for complimenting your daughter’s yellow parasol. Thank you, but no. I don’t want to part of your vibrant work force.”
Yes, black men served in the confederate army. Yes, the northern states were not saintly angels. No, not every southerner owned slaves. These are arguments made by the intellectually dishonest to distract from the real issue.
And if the ancillary arguments validate the position, why doesn’t the array of damning facts matter? KKK used the flag? So what. German hate groups used it when nazi paraphernalia was banned? So what. Southern AND northern hate groups use the flag? So what? Trying to get a confederate flag supporter to confront any of these issues head on is like trying to get a cat to put on a leash and take itself for a walk.
In the end, every supporter of the confederate flag I’ve talked to (that didn’t start grumble, call me names, and disappear into a cloud of sulfur) falls back on the assertion that the flag is not racist TO THEM. The flag is not offensive TO THEM.
I keep seeing people on facebook with confederate flag icons. I’ve asked the following questions and I still haven’t gotten any direct answers. What is going through your head when you, days after a disturbed racist killed nine black men and women IN A CHURCH, have the confederate flag as your icon? Do you think ANY African American man or woman anywhere has anything less than a gut level reaction of fear and anxiety in regards to the confederate flag and why do you care so little about that? Are you comfortable being in the same camp as people like this guy?
Or this guy?
I’m not even sure what’s going on here.
The confederate flag is a symbol for southern pride, not a scapegoat for racial killings and oppression.
Somebody who doesn’t know what scapegoat means actually said this in a facebook comment. A scapegoat is a person blamed for the misdeeds of others. The confederate flag itself was designed to support white supremacy over blacks. And it’s reappearance and continued use was to rally white pride and terrorize black populations.
The flag was mostly forgotten until it became part of Georgia’s state flag after the reconstruction. It became popular with specific groups in 1948 when when Dixiecrats (racists southern democrats) adopted the flag as their own and nominated Strom Thurmond, a massive douche of a racist, in their rebellion against Harry Truman’s attempt at desegregation.
After WWII when nazi paraphernalia was banned in Germany, many hate groups began using the confederate flag itself as a stand in.
Continuously, the flag is called back into active duty every time African Americans make significant progress gaining equal rights. The flag is not a scapegoat. It has no agency. It is a tool designed and revived for the specific purpose of furthering racist white supremacist agendas.
I honor the flag and I’m not racist.
I’m willing to concede to the best point any confederate flag supporters have–that they themselves never did anything bad to anybody. They never owned slaves or killed black people. They resent the way this symbol that they have chosen to revere is being treated because it implicates them and they don’t like feeling defensive. It’s not that the flag is a scapegoat; the people flying the flag are.
Not all of the people that revere the flag are racist. Not all of the people who wear it, brandish it, tattoo it, put it on their cars or in their front lawns believe they are inherently superior to blacks, or that blacks or any other minorities are bad, but they are not only refusing to let go of a symbol that is so completely mired in racism that it’s naive to argue otherwise, but they become more aggressive and more visible after tragedies that lead to renewed debate and protest.
If you care about your southern heritage, preserve it. Free it from the stain of its past. Look to include your black neighbors instead of keeping them scared and in line–whether or on purpose or through an utter lack of consideration.
The debate isn’t merely about whether or not the flag is racist. It isn’t. It’s just a flag. What is racist is the insistence of displaying it when being pegged by almost every perspective but your own as supporting all of the ugly and violent history leading up to the present.
If you’re flying that flag, don’t try to run from the fact that you’re rebelling against what this country wants to turn into, a cross-cultural true melting pot where African American men and women can feel as safe, involved, and powerful as white men and women. Maybe the real issue is that this growing reality scares you and makes you mad. At best you’re being an asshole. At least stop being a cowardly asshole and admit you know it’s history, you know the relevance of your actions, and cop to the real reasons why you insist on supporting such a negative connection to the past, whatever those reasons are.