GORDON: Today, we’re going to be touching on a nerve that’s still pretty raw in the US, even after a century and a half.
Specifically, we’re going to be talking about the ol’ stars and bars- the flag of the former Confederate States of America.
EVAN: I’d like to remind everyone reading this that I am a Canadian. The most experience I have with the Confederate flag is in seeing it on the top of the General Lee from the remake of, and not the original, Dukes of Hazard.
That being said, Gordon directed me towards an article written not too long ago on BBC, and there is an incredible amount of divisiveness regarding it as a symbol.
GORDON: For many, especially in the South, the Confederate Flag is a symbol of rebellion, pride, and as it is most commonly argued by its proponents, a unique heritage
Of course, for plenty of other people, the flag is nothing more than a symbol of bigotry and racism.
EVAN: The pride that people in the South feel is not something I have any direct contact with, but it’s fascinating to me nonetheless. I had a professor in college tell me that a student south of the Mason-Dixon once openly wept to him asking why they lost the war.
It’s just so much passion for such a young country.
But addressing what you just said, I have even less contact with the flag as a sign of racism. Do you want to elaborate on that a little?
GORDON: Well, there’s the obvious link to the Confederacy, which attempted to secede from the US over many issues, the most fundamental of which was slavery.
Now you’re gonna get people who say “no, no- it was about state’s rights!” To which we must reply, “State’s rights to own slaves.” But that’s a little besides the point.
In spite of claims that it “represents heritage”, the flag disappeared for almost a century until it was brought back in the mid-50s as a way of protesting the Supreme Court Decision “Brown vs Board of Education”, which desegregated schools (in theory if not in practice).
The KKK, Southern Heritage organizations, and other groups were quick to adopt it as a symbol
EVAN: The groups that wanted to keep segregation in schools used it as a symbol? Yikes, man. I mean, yes, and the KKK adopted it as well.
So in a lot of ways we’re discussing what symbols mean in today’s culture. I mean, within the same span of time we’ve had the rainbow taken on as a pretty significant symbol for all things LGBT, and it’ll mean that for decades and decades to come.
Had the KKK and so on not started waving the flag, would there be such an uproar over it?
GORDON: The KKK were (are) just once facet of racism in the US- if you were just protesting desegregation in general back in the 60s, you may have waved the Confederate flag.
It got used as a symbol of “leave the South to the South” in general.
EVAN: In referring back to the article that you told me to read, you have some supporters of the flag saying that we should likewise be against the Union Jack [British flag] and others because they likewise had a lot to do with slavery.
This is . . . weak, in my opinion. But only because those flags haven’t been co-opted by all the groups we’ve already talked about. That added layer of meaning simply isn’t there.
GORDON: That’s definitely true. One parallel I did want to bring up though was the swastika. Having lived in East Asia, I presume you can speak more to that than I could.
EVAN: Well, yeah, there’s the fact that the swastika was originally an East Indian symbol that has a whole bunch to do with goodness and all that. And Hitler, who was pretty into East Indian religious stuff for some reason, snatched it up and put it on his flags and things.
That’s more or less accurate, I think.
GORDON: Generally, yeah.
So with these two extremely different perspective on the mean of four squiggly lines, how should we react to it?
EVAN: Well, the thing is that the swastika continues to be used by neo-Nazis in the like in far greater volume that members of East Asian faiths. That being said, if you’re going to wave it about people are going to assume the former over the latter every time.
GORDON: It’s certainly arguable the the Confederate flag is far more ambiguous in it’s meaning, or rather, it’s use.
The Celtic cross also springs to mind.
For plenty of people, it’s just another depiction of a crucifix, though it’s also a symbol used a lot by neo-Nazis and white supremacists. How are we to respond to that?
EVAN: The Celtic cross, eh? I mean, is the fact that we normally wouldn’t react to it at all what you’re referring to?
I mean, if I only heard the words of people in the South who were using these flags out of respect towards their ancestors who were killed in the Civil War I couldn’t not respect that. That would be okay with me.
That being said, most of what I’ve heard is that it’s really ignorant and terrible to use it . . . ever.
GORDON: You brought up earlier that the swastika has a certain meaning attached to it because there’s more neo-Nazis using it than Hindus and Buddhists (who I think are the two groups who primarily use it as a religious symbol).
What about the idea of claiming a symbol? What if- just for example- the Confederate flag was so commonly used that it eventually became subject to reverse association?
EVAN: Wait, used in what fashion, exactly?
GORDON: Imagine that it was going to be used by everyone, regardless of racial or regional background. Over time, the flag would lose its association with it’s negative history.
Heck, the best example of that would probably be the sign of the cross.
EVAN: Former symbol of grisly public executions now used by Christian [and “Christian”] groups everywhere?
GORDON: Pretty much, yeah.
EVAN: It’s just hard for me to think about without knowing how it gets adopted into the mainstream. It’s very clear how the cross came to be more widespread, but you’d find me hard-pressed to think about how the swastika suddenly becomes a symbol that people are generally okay with.
GORDON: Heh, no argument.
Of course, it’s also hard to imagine the Confederate flag being flown high over a largely black neighborhood without bringing up sentiments of occupation and all the vile history it’s sometimes used to represent.
EVAN: So to concentrate on that, since we are coming down to our last few minutes, what do we do about the Confederate flag? Like I said earlier, I full-on respect why some people choose to put them up. At the same time, there’s the issue you raise that many African American people are not down with it at all.
GORDON: I guess my general feeling would be of one similar to guns.
Am I a staunch advocate of the Second Amendment? Yeah, I am.
Would I go around a town with a recent school shooting toting an AK-47 decal on the bumper of my truck?
I would not.
EVAN: Ooh, I like that. The whole “freedom of speech” thing, eh?
We’re free to say and put up whatever we want, but we do have to face the consequences and take into account context and all that jazz.
I’ve got no issue with offending people, but there’s such a thing as being just senseless and obstinate.
EVAN: You will not hear me disagreeing with that sentiment for even a second.
And there you have it, folks. The Confederate flag is, at its core, a symbol, and as such can be interpreted in a few different ways. It’s not a crime or a sin to have ’em, but you need to be fully aware of the sort of statement you could be making.
GORDON: As it is wont to, basic human decency wins out.
EVAN: Would you like to adjourn this week’s E> with those words?
GORDON: I would indeed.