Is it racist to fly the Confederate flag? | The Tylt
Is it racist to fly the Confederate flag?
"Heritage not hate" is the common phrase used by people to defend the Confederate flag. Defenders say the American South has a different and much more tragic history than the rest of the nation.
The Civil War was America's bloodiest conflict by far. Roughly two percent of the population, an estimated 620,000 men, lost their lives. Taken as a percentage of today's population, the death toll would have been six million.
C. Vann Woodward, one of the greatest historians of the South, wrote that after the war ended, the Southerners had to learn '…the un-American lesson of submission. For the South had undergone an experience that it could share with no other part of America…the experience of military defeat, occupation, and reconstruction.'
Because of this searing ordeal, Southerners had and continue to have a radically different historical narrative than the remainder of America...What Americans outside the South don’t understand is the Confederate defeat was so devastating the impact reverberates to this day.
In 2015, former President Barack Obama traveled to Oregon to meet with the families of victims of a shooting rampage at Umpqua Community College that left nine dead. He was met by more than 200 gun-rights activists protesting, some of whom were waving the Confederate flag.
Critics say this usage is sadly typical: the rebel flag is often brandished in places and situations that aren't connected with Southern heritage, and that it's done specifically to intimidate and terrorize people of color.
For some, flying the Confederate flag is about honoring the Confederate soldiers who gave their lives to defend the South. For them, the flag does not symbolize slavery or racism but standing up to an overbearing federal government. BBC's Tom Geoghegan looked to Barry Isenhour, a member of a heritage group fighting to erect a large Confederate flag on a major road in Virginia, for insight on motivations behind flying the flag. According to Isenhour, the flag would act as a tribute to the Confederate soldiers who lost their lives:
For him, the war was not primarily about slavery but standing up to being over-taxed, and he says many southerners abhorred slavery.
'They fought for the family and fought for the state. We are tired of people saying they did something wrong. They were freedom-loving Americans who stood up to the tyranny of the North. They seceded from the US government, not from the American idea.'
Some might counter by asking: What about the slaves who lost their lives to tyranny and injustice? Many say there is no such thing as honoring the South without honoring the institution it was based upon—slavery. Charles McCain, a Southerner himself, says many Southerners live in denial about the Civil War's hard truths.
When the Civil War finally ended, how could white Southerners come to an emotional acceptance of the hurricane of violence which had passed over them leaving a trail of destruction never imagined and a burden of grief so heavy....
To bear this, white Southerners had to look for a noble reason to explain why so many of their sons had died as a result of the war. That reason could not be the preservation of slavery.
And many say flying the Confederate flag is the opposite of patriotism. Where Southerners see heritage, others see white supremacy and treason.
Others deny this kind of narrative entirely.
Antiracist activists point to the fact that the Confederate flag so often appears at white supremacist rallies, alongside Ku Klux Klan and Nazi flags. After the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in which one woman was killed, sales of Confederate flags skyrocketed. The Independent's Chloe Farand reports:
At Alabama Flag and Banner, one of the few remaining US makers of the Confederate flag, sales reached 150 in a single day last week, a quarter of the number of average annual sales.
Its owner Belinda Melson-Kennedy, whose distant relative fought for the Confederacy, said she disliked the flag being used by white supremacists but that it remained an important part of Southern history and culture.
But others argue that because some bad actors display the flag, that does not mean they get to define its meaning. Ben Jones puts it this way in The New York Times opinion page:
It is obvious that some racists have appropriated and desecrated the Confederate battle flag for their pathetic causes, but those hateful folks also commonly display the Christian cross and the American flag. Do those symbols also inspire racism?