Flags mean things. Eddie Izzard is funny as shit when he does that bit, but it’s not just funny: It’s true. Flags mean things in our world. They’re symbols and rallying points.
I don’t even know how to frame this, and it feels silly to even write it, because, like, isn’t this obvious? And who am I to decide to write a screed on this? I’m a white woman with a library degree and a lot of anger, that’s who. There’s too much for me to say about racism in America right now, about white complicity via silence, about the feeling of powerlessness to do anything about it, about all the things we have to change and the lack of clarity about how to do that, about the horror that it is to live in this world at this time… and as a white woman I’m not even a victim.
And then I started researching the current usage of the Confederate flag (because if you’re going to be upset about something, at least know why you’re upset, with some accuracy) and confirmed my belief that it is nothing but an emblem of yearning for a racist past and a desire to recreate a kind of “normal” that I despise. Just as I reject the romanticized 50’s gender roles for women, I reject the idea that the ethics, morals, and culture of the Antebellum South made up a world we should emulate. The argument that the Confederate flag is anything other than a racist emblem holds no water with me. Here’s why.
Per Wikipedia, the swastika “is considered to be a sacred and auspicious symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism,” but we don’t use it anymore because of the Nazis. We don’t use it in the western world because it calls up memories, images, and emotions related to horrific crimes perpetrated on marginalized people out of intolerance and hate.
Also per Wikipedia, “…a now popular variant of the Confederate flag was rejected as the national flag in 1861. It was instead adopted as a battle flag by the Army of Northern Virginia under General Lee. Despite never having historically represented the CSA as a country nor officially recognized as one of the national flags, it is commonly referred to as “the Confederate Flag” and has become a widely recognized symbol of the American south.”
And “In Georgia, the Confederate battle flag was reintroduced in 1956, just two years after the Supreme Court decision Brown v Board of Education. It was considered by many to be a protest against school desegregation. It was also raised at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) during protests against integration of schools.”
The entry also quotes a historian who writes, “The battle flag was never adopted by the Confederate Congress, never flew over any state capitols during the Confederacy, and was never officially used by Confederate veterans’ groups. The flag probably would have been relegated to Civil War museums if it had not been resurrected by the resurgent KKK and used by Southern Dixiecrats during the 1948 presidential election.”
So. It is a flag that was never the national flag of the rebels, but instead the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia (which fought at many of the major battles of the war, and whose surrender on April 9, 1865 effectively ended the Civil War, ensuring that historically speaking this flag is drenched in blood). It is the flag of a treasonous army that sought to break our country apart, which was resurrected 90 years later by the KKK and Southern Dixiecrats, “a splinter party that opposed racial integration and wanted to retain Jim Crow laws and white supremacy in the face of possible federal intervention.” Reading that, knowing that, the flag should, like the swastika, call up memories, images, and emotions related to horrific crimes perpetrated on marginalized people out of intolerance and hate. And yet for the last 60 years it’s been publicly claimed that it’s not about racism, no, not at all. It’s a “symbol of Southern culture”. Bo and Luke Duke put it on their car! It celebrates Southern-ness!
People tell me that my dislike of the American South is unfair, that there are lovely, wonderful people there, living in rich, nuanced cultures. I’m sure the people who tell me that are right. Those cultures and people are, I’m certain, living across our country, in all regions, just as there are racists, bigots, and intolerance in all of our communities across our country.
But the Confederate flag originated as a battle flag in a war in which the flags were explicitly designed to empower those “fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race.” It is a flag championed in modern times by the KKK and proponents of segregation, and it now flies with government oversight over the State House in South Carolina.
And it’s not charming. It’s not cute. It’s not a representation, in America, of “Southern values” as meant in a folksy and reminiscent way. Like the swastika is now indelibly linked with the Holocaust despite its origins in eastern faiths, the Confederate flag is indelibly linked to racism. So regardless of whether or not Southern proponents of the Confederate battle flag believe it to be a symbol of a past they cherish… it is a symbol of racism. Of oppression. Of hate. Of violence. Like the swastika. And we must stop letting it be used, holding it up as a symbol of pride. We must not be proud of hatred and oppression.