Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What's in a Flag?

I don't really have anything to add, but I did want to note this: Ta-Nehisi Coates has a good post up on the Confederate Flag and its connection to racism, and reposted a comment which adds a lot more texture to the discussion that I, an upper-class Yank, wouldn't have known about.


PG said...

The comment provides texture but also a bit of excusing -- Lester Maddox and George Wallace were, after all, celebrated for being racists. And as some of the commenters noted, you see the Battle Flag used among some middle-class folks as well.

Anonymous said...

I don't get the trouble people have empathizing with people who want to fly a Battle Flag. Yes, many of the people who fly it are racists. Yes, it symbolizes racism to a lot of people. But it's also their heritage. That's not a bogus point.

Why not get on people to drop the American flag because of atrocities committed in its name? We went all genocide on the Native Americans, that's worse than slavery. Note that the Battle of Little Bighorn was ten years AFTER the civil war.

Almost all nations or ethnic groups have a ton of egg on their face if you stop and think for ten seconds. That doesn't mean you can't be proud of your heritage just because it's a part of who you are.

I have a German flag up in my room at home. It's the cool one that is supposed to be for the government, with the eagle on it. I know my guys fucked up real bad pretty recently. Real bad. But I like my flag and if you said "please take it down," I'd say "no thank you." Germans pretty much invented modern religious studies and sociology and also the Categorical Imperative. And even though I'm not a fan of Hitler and I wish the World Wars never happened, I'm real proud of the military history. The Germans kept freaking Rome out of their forests for nearly a millenium, tricked Napoleon in Waterloo, and gave the whole Western world a run for its money in spite of being lead by a demonic moron half the time(i'm in the camp that says the two world wars were one war with a an intermission). I'm proud of that heritage in spite of the huge black spot.

If I were a southerner and my grandfather's grandfather died in the war, I think I might have a Battle Flag up in my room. Slavery's no good, but IMO it can't be worse than propping up puppet dictators, or genocide, or apartheid, or colonization, or all kinds of stuff. But we rightly let people celebrate heritages that include those things. I figure it should be the same for the south.

now i'm not in favor of racism, or using the flag as a covert expression of racism. i'm not even in favor of the Confederate flag being up in government facilities. But it also strikes me that even racist people might have honest heritage-based reasons to want to fly the flag independently of racism. Even middle class college kids.


chingona said...


I think it's different for two reasons. The American flag (and I'm not a big flag-waver myself, but nonetheless) represents the entire country for its entire history. That includes a lot of awful stuff, but also a lot of wonderful ideals, inspiring struggles, etc. Just as your German flag represents all sorts of stuff about Germany and German history to you, not just Nazism. The Confederate battle flag doesn't represent the entire South as a nation or entity but a very specific period in which the South went to war to preserve the institution of slavery. Presumably, you wouldn't display a flag with a swastika on it and say that represented German heritage and expect people to take you seriously.

Secondly, there is the issue of the offense given, which Ta-Nehisi refers to. The question becomes: What about this flag is so important to you that you don't care that the majority of black people that see you displaying it are going to feel threatened/alienated/unwelcome? Why is your expression of identity MORE important to you (when, presumably, you could find another way to express that pride in your heritage) than the safety and comfort of other people in your community?

You have your flag in your room at home. No one can or would stop anyone from displaying the Confederate battle flag at their home or from their pick-up truck. But by now, people who do so know and understand how that looks to other people in their community. If your "identity" is more important to you than not looking racist, don't get upset when people think you're racist.


About the comment, I agree, though that commenter comes along to clarify later (in comments) that he isn't trying to excuse the use of the flag - he thinks it's wrong either way - but trying to explain some of the social factors at play.

PG said...

Presumably, you wouldn't display a flag with a swastika on it and say that represented German heritage and expect people to take you seriously.Bingo.

Also, I've never heard of anyone's having a problem with the use of Confederate flags in a truly historical context. Lots of Texans who are into state history will have a display with all the flags that have flown over the state (French, Spanish, Mexican, Republic of TX, Confederate, United States). Since this is mentioned even in Edna Ferber's book "Giant," that means people have been doing it since at least 1952 (before Lester Maddox or George Wallace became famous). And then of course there's the Six Flags Over Texas theme park which is named for exactly those flags.