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On the Possible Demise of a Symbol

Tuesday, June 23, 2015
I grew up under the confederate battle flag. Although I moved around quite a bit as a young man, it wasn't until I was in my twenties that I lived in state where it wasn't prominently displayed. It was everywhere you looked. And as a young man I didn't think much of it. I was distinct among many of my peers in that I considered it a good thing that the South had lost of the civil war, and I always understood that the War had been about the preservation of slavery. Maybe that was because I grew up in areas that were (by regional standards) fairly cosmopolitan, or because my parents were from the North, but then that didn't save many of my friends from falling prey to the glamor of the Lost Cause. The power of place is quite extraordinary. After a few decades good northern liberals can find their children becoming confederate sympathizers, and even detecting more than a bit of drawl in their own speech.

However, despite my resistance to pro-confederate propaganda, it took a very long time for me to link it to the stars & bars. I'm therefore somewhat sympathetic to those who are confused by the strenuous calls to expunge the battle flag from public life. If you don't see a necessary connection between the War to Defend Slavery and an idiosyncratic southern symbol, then it's hard to see what gets people to riled up. Of course, if the symbol is so innocuous it shouldn't inspire great resistance to its elimination, but people's views aren't always very coherent so I'll leave that be.

It took me a long time to realize that rather than a harmless symbol or a minor issue, the confederate flag is a gratuitous insult to the millions of people whose ancestors suffered under a system of oppression and still do. Despite the fact that I was (and am) a liberal, I still needed to be educated on this matter. It's no surprise then that unreflective southern conservatives (something of a triple redundancy) should take so long to come around.

I'm hopeful that the awful events in Charleston will finally result in the confederate battle flag disappearing into history. I hope that in a few decades it is as anathema to display that symbol as it is to wear the swastika. But I also hope that liberals realize that it will take a very long process of cultural education to persuade southern society that they have anything to be ashamed of. Getting rid of the battle flag would be an important victory, but the forces of evil that wield such influence in the South have suffered much more colossal defeats in the past and refused to give up the struggle for white supremacy. It's a siege, not a battle.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 12:22 PM
  • Happy to hear from you again! Particularly as, being a fellow Southerner, this strikes a chord. I rarely saw much of the flag in our parts of Louisiana, and I always thought it was ugly, so the idea of getting rid of it never gave me the smallest bit of a pause.

    But all the rest is certainly true. I have great hopes that the younger generations don't have nearly the ignorance of their elders. But there is always that small percentage of wingnuts. They're entrenched, so we can never give up the fight.

    By Blogger Rebecca, at 9:18 PM  
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