Confederate flag neither anti-American nor racist, necessarily

The following arose out of a thread about a license plate (which apparently did add a cryptically racist message to a vehicle which also displayed a Confederate flag), but the flag part, which wasn’t really the issue, was turning into a distraction from the license plate part, so tomndebb appropriately banished it from that thread.

Well, the “heritage not hate” slogan itself is a statement against the racist use or interpretation of the flag.

But still, there’s some truth to this–racists have not been confronted as vigorously as they should be. It’s not just a matter of this symbol either; I’ve seen avowed racists with the American flag and the Christian cross in their hands (literally) as well; presumably most Americans and most Christians would prefer they not carry those either. (The Nazis are probably okay with their use of swastikas.)

First, you must understand that many people display the Confederate battle flag* with a completely ahistorical intent. Not only does it have nothing to do with race or slavery, for these folks, it doesn’t even really have to do with the War. It’s just a signifier for “the South,” or an even looser one for “rebel.” For these groups, the distinction between the various flags used by the Confederacy is pointless; the best-known rectangular saltire flag is “the rebel flag.” (This category also includes, I suppose, the banners made from superimposing another image, like a skull, a wolf, or Hank Williams Jr., onto the saltire).

Second, among people who do have history in mind, some feel that honoring the soldiers of the Confederacy–as opposed to the politics of slavery or secession–is precisely what they want to do.

Finally, while they’re less popular, the actual national flags of the CSA are indeed displayed, as is the unofficial (and more general) flag of self-determination, the Bonnie Blue.


Diogenes, in other threads I’ve found a lot to like in things you’ve posted.

But you’re mistaken here, and verging on YogSothoth-brand frothiness.

With respect, perhaps it’s a matter of exposure. How many people do you personally know who have displayed a Confederate flag? How many people have you talked to about their personal reasons for wanting to do so? (These are good questions for all those who have been so strident on the matter–where are you getting your information, exactly?)

People who display the flag today tend to strongly identify as pro-American.

The Confederate States of America were not anti-American–though they were, of course, the battlefield enemy of a political entity known as the United States of America. Don’t play dense and tell me that you don’t know the difference between America and the political entity.

The Confederacy was America–as was the Union. Both sides claimed the inheritance of the Founders, and both sides were justified in doing so, at least to a point.

Regrettably, both sides were racist as well–that was then and remains today part of the heritage of all Americans.

Dozens. Hundreds? Maybe a hundred.

It’s all nonsense to me, this debate about what it means to them. I’m not in their heads, I can’t tell whether or not they mean it when they say they want to honor the Confederacy, except for the part with the black people in chains.

All I need to know is they choose to use as a symbol the flag which was only ever flown by a group of men taking arms against the United States in order to preserve the institution of slavery. If they really don’t want to send a hateful and racist message, they ought to try a little harder.

History is full of people who made great sacrifices, performed with heroics, and served with honor for despicable causes. While time does heal and dampen the spirit of the malignancy, the racial history and essence of the Confederacy has not yet transcended the evil of its existence.

Yes, there is plenty of nuance, and yes, no heroes are entirely clean and look at that, there is hypocrisy in the celebration of all sorts of celebrated figures and historical events. But venerating those who fought for the destruction of the union and the continuation of slavery is absurd.

Is it direct racism? For many, sure. Is it racism thrice removed? For many, sure. Is it possible to symbolize and venerate a small time period devoted to evil without any racist taint? Doubtful.

This is very nice but probably isn’t true. There is a reasonably ample literature on this phenomenon.

Let’s start here.

And of course, Falaschetti.

And another piece, this one presented to APSA.

And how do you suppose that Hindus and Buddhists feel about the use of swastikas by racist groups?

My family is Hindu and we have many items at home that bear swastikas. However, being aware of the connotation that swastikas have in the society at large, we exercise care and do not display it in a manner where it can be seen and misinterpreted.

If I were to drive around with a swastika bumper sticker, I would be doing so fully aware of how it would be interpreted by the population at large. As such, it would not be credible for me to claim that I did not intend a message that I had full knowledge would be the message received. In the same way, it is disingenuous for people who fully know what the Confederate flag means to a large segment of the population to claim “but that’s not what I intend it to mean!” When they are fully aware of the message that will be heard, then they intend that meaning.

I’ve made this point in other threads, but the country has really become (IMO) hyper-sensitive to the Confederate flag over the past three decades.

In the 70s, and into the 80s the flag was everywhere, and no one thought twice about it. It made a regular appearance on a weekly TV show (The Dukes of Hazzard). It shows up on a dorm room wall in the movie Animal House (1978), and nobody accused the director of bigoted intent. It was for sale in the form of a patch for your jeans in children’s comic books. Lynyrd Skynyrd toured with a gigantic Confederate flag as their backdrop, and nobody launched protests or thought to mention it in magazine articles.

The flag was not being displayed in those instances as a symbol of racism, but rather as a symbol of the South (Skynyrd and the Dukes of Hazzard), or as a more generalized symbol of rebellion (Animal House and the jean patches).

From the late 80s forward, people started deciding to get offended by the flag. (Show me a Confederate flag controversy that pre-dates, say, 1985.)

At this point, the anti-flag people have won. If you fly the flag you will be perceived as racist, whether that is your intent or not. And for that reason, I think most people who might have flown the flag in the past with no ill intent have put it away for fear of being perceived as racist. And as fewer people of no ill intent fly the flag, that just reinforces the perception that the flag is only flown by racists.

(I think that also explains the numbers in Maeglin’s linked studies. Those studies are of a specific subset of people who want the Confederate flag as part of the state flag. Not surprising that those die-hards are more likely to have racist attitudes. But showing that some percentage of that subset of people is racist, even if it’s a large percentage, is not the same as showing that everyone who displays the flag intends to convey a racist message.)

Well, sure. Prior to a certain timepoint, blackface was everywhere. It still crops up from time to time, and I’m sure in some rarefied cases it has no racial overtones at all.

But those rare times in which it is symbolically empty either have no realization or bare minimum of understanding about blackface’s past or are lampooning/satarizing the concept. Holding blackface performances to venerate Vaudeville in general can’t be done without simultaneously venerating the inherent racism of that aspect of entertainment.

You can call for a return to 50s’ era civility all you want — bully for you. But hold up a “whites only” water fountain sign as a symbol of it’s greatness?

Calling for veneration of the time period in which people tried to kill others in order to keep yet others enslaved is what it is. Call it southern pride all you want, it’s still about keeping slaves.

If I’m not mistaken, that flag became a Southern pride symbol only around the time of the early Civil Rights movement. So that would make it a flag that represents a nation that went to war over the right to have slaves, and which became popular when the ex-slave race started agitating publicly for equal rights. It would be pretty hard to separate that flag from racism considering its history.

Nope. We’ve had that discussion too.

The flag was carried into battle by Southern troops during World War I and World War II. It appeared on advertising logos (Dixie Crystals and Dixie Oil). It was well accepted as a symbol of the South before the Civil Rights era.

What did happen in the Civil Rights era is that Southern states started incorporating the Confederate flag into their state flags.

To you that’s what it’s about. That’s the thing about symbols. They mean different things to different people.

The problem is there is no other symbol out there to display to say “Hey, I’m from the South!”

(Boy, that’s a dangerous straight line… ::ducks:: )

What a coincidence.

In 1960-70s, the Confederate flag flew over the Alabama Statehouse above the other flags there. This led to complaints in the mid 70s by a member of the Alabama legislature, Alvin Holmes, who said that it shouldn’t be flying above the US flag. His complaint came to the attention of the media and eventually Governor Wallace moved the Confederate flag below the US one.

Do we really need one, though? There’s no symbol that says, “Hey I’m from the Northeast” or “Hey I’m from the Midwest.”

Yes, of course the flag was being by those states as a symbol of defiance of federal authority (and yes, in support of segregation).

But that doesn’t change the fact that it was used before that as a generic symbol of the South. (The point on which you were wrong.)

Hey, I can’t help it if folks from the Northeast and the Midwest don’t feel as connected to their regional cultures as Southerners do. :wink:

When you try to communicate something, it matters what the person you’re communicating to thinks more than what you yourself think.

When a symbol has the power to offend, no one is going to care about your subjective intentions while using it. It’s enough that a lot of people use it to offend people and the people it offends do not like seeing it.

The flag wasn’t a symbol of the South before the Civil War. And out of all the possible symbols available to communicate that you’re from the South, why choose the one tied to defending slavery?

I don’t believe that the causes of self-determination (in this case, states’ rights and secession), and self-defense against an invader, were or could ever be despicable. Most Southern soldiers had no more stake in the perpetuation of slavery than did Northerners (which is not quite to say none, because white people north and south profited by the arrangement).

I am not saying that, at the macropolitical level, slavery was not the primary reason for the secession crisis then. I wish it had been at another time and for another reason.

But again, the flag need not be a historical reference at all. As spoke- says, for many folks, it simply stands for the South.

Touche. A semi-humorous aside, but I should have known…

Fair enough. Indeed, some folks who have flags don’t fly them for this reason. And I should have added–in the previous explanation of why different people choose to display various iterations of Confederate flag–that some folks display the less-recognizable forms because they are less recognizable, except to the historically-minded, and therefore unlikely to be “read” as a racist message.

Of course some people do want to display the Hindu swastika in public. (Should this guy have exercised more care? :eek:)

What symbol of the South could be picked that wouldn’t make people think of racism?

The majority of white Americans in 1860, North and South, were racists. But only one side in the Civil War was formed for the express purpose of upholding and defending race-based slavery.

But the Confederate flag is not some generic symbol of rebellion or self-defense against invaders or even of states’ rights. It is the specific symbol chosen as the “national” emblem of a government whose “cornerstone” was slavery and which was dedicated to the proposition that all white men are created equal, and that the “African race” should be “rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race”. If you just want a generalized symbol of rebellion or self-determination or being ornery in defense of one’s rights, try one of the rattlesnake flags. If you just want a symbol of “the South”, from Jamestown to the present…well, I dunno. That’s kind of a tough one. Maybe you’ll just have to go with a bumper sticker instead.

But you can hardly get worked up if people assume that a Confederate flag is in some way connected with the Confederacy, which was unquestionably an entity dedicated to upholding white supremacy and the servitude of blacks, by force of arms and bloody war if need be.

That guy is clearly a jackass.