Monday, June 29, 2015

To my Southern Friends: Are You Sure You Want to Support the Battle Flag?

For many southerners, the Battle Flag (commonly misnomered as "rebel flag" or "Confederate flag") doesn’t mean white supremacy or racial superiority. They, like myself, grew up thinking the flag meant southern pride: pride in a simple life and family time, synonymous with cornbread and pickup trucks. The racial history of the flag wasn’t part of their dialogue growing up, and they have largely been oblivious to the history surrounding the flag and how other people view it. When they see the Battle Flag, they see it as standing up for their culture and lifestyle that is largely mocked and ridiculed by those in other parts of the country, and when they see their symbol being attacked, they feel as though their lifestyle and culture is being attacked as well, resulting in their clinging to it more intensely.

And to be completely honest, saying that the origin of the flag means more than how some currently view it is a bit of a genetic fallacy (dismissing something because of its origins, not its current interpretation). We don’t reject wedding rings because they originated as symbols of women being property of men; we accept them because our culture has changed the meaning. A prime example of this is the Swastika, a symbol whose origins track back to Ukraine 12,000 year ago. It hasn’t always been a symbol of hate and supremacy, but it was co-opted by the Nazi Regime as a symbol of their racial purity, and it has represented atrocities committed in the name of race since then. It’s been banned in Germany and is now an almost universally recognized symbol of hatred and oppression.

Almost universal. There are still some who use it to represent it's original meaning in Sanskrit - “Well Being” - specifically those of Buddhist and Hindi belief. No one seriously argues that we should forget its modern representation in favor of its more uncommon meaning, and no one would tell a Jewish survivor of a concentration camp that they should ignore its modern interpretation because its origins were pure.


(notice the bold AND the CAPS AND the repetition of a caveat)

You don’t get to decide what other people find offensive. While many southerners don’t see the Battle Flag as meaning racial hatred, others do. In fact, the majority of Americans do. They didn’t grow up seeing the flag as representative of a southern lifestyle; they learned about the origins of the flag, how it was created with no other purpose than to symbolize racial hatred and white supremacy. For millions of black Americans facing racial hatred every day, both subtle and overt, those who fly the Battle Flag remind them that they are still considered inferior – EVEN IF some who revere the flag do so out of different reasons.

So keep this in mind: Those who wave the Battle Flag do not necessarily do it because they are racists; they do it because of the new meaning they have attributed to it. They see the attack on their flag as an attack on their way of life and a stereotyping of all southerners as racist, creating even more contention than we have now (if that’s even possible).

But I do have a question to ask my friends who support the Battle Flag: Is the flag really worth it? In a culture riddled with racial tension, is your adherence to a flag created for no other reason than to declare racial supremacy worth the new message you associate with it? You are not exempt from the messages that the flag conveys: if you wave it, knowing the history of the flag and the ideas it engenders, you are not only supporting your interpretation of the flag but also theirs. You are saying, “My culture is more important than your race.” Is that really the message you want to give? If you really have pride in southern culture – a culture that supposedly includes good manners and respectful behavior – is adherence to this flag really the best way to do it?

In other words, if you want to prove that your culture has overcome racism, is standing up for a flag that still symbolizes racism for the majority of Americans the best way to do it?