Since the racially-motivated shooting of nine people in Charleston, South Carolina there has been a backlash against the rebel flag, perceived as a symbol of continued inequality and racism in America. Calls for it to be removed from any public building have been heard and the flags are disappearing from such places. Retailers like Wal-Mart, Sears, Amazon and eBay have all agreed to stop selling such merchandise in the future. The Apple app store even went so far as to take down a series of Civil War strategy games that used the flag, which might seem insane to anyone that has never witnessed the ridiculousness of the Apple store’s curators’ antics before (Seriously guys, this wouldn’t even make a top ten list).
So the flag is big news and race is big news and big news brings big comments sections. And I read them because I have a very serious impulse control problem. In doing so on this issue I have run across five basic archetypes that pretty much prove the point of why a lot of people want the flag removed.
5. We Shouldn’t Do This Because a Psycho Killed People
It’s not the debate about the flag that people like this object to, it’s that it’s happening now after a killing. Debate should take place in the calm light of day free from emotional turmoil and political pressure. We shouldn’t let a nutjob push us into change.
Sorry, but it doesn’t work like that. You can’t praise Rosa Parks and then decry a lone individual causing trouble sparking a positive change in the same paragraph and expect anyone to take you seriously. Trust me, the people who have looked askance at the flag for years would have loved to have this conversation before some pissmuppet stumbled onto a bunch of white power blogs and thought they provided the answer to his problems. Trouble is, we didn’t. No one would listen. The bigger question is, why did nine people have to die before anyone would seriously consider it?
4. We Must Honor the Dead
There is no doubt that many good people fought bravely and died on the Confederate side of the Civil War. Hell, go read up on Patrick Cleburne sometime. That guy kicked all the ass because he dearly loved his adopted homeland and even sincerely tried to free blacks to join their cause. Patrick Cleburne was kind of amazing.
That said, the fallen soldiers of the Confederacy have been well and thoroughly honored plenty. They have museums and cemeteries and plaques and monuments. They have towns and schools and streets named after them. There is no shortage of honoring the glorious dead who wore the grey. However, they and their loved ones are now beyond living memory and it behooves us to consider honoring both the recent dead and the still-living in due measure. Celebrating a heritage should not come at the price of poisoning the present and the future.
3. Muh White Rights
There’s no more ridiculous narrative in America than that of people like this commenter who believe that white people are now having the country taken from them, that the “tables have turned”. Didn’t someone else say that recently? I thought I saw it in the news somewhere. Anyway…
42.5 of the 43 people who have held the presidency in America have been white. Of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies there are less than five who are black. Four out of five members of Congress are white. Black people are roughly twice as likely to not be able to find a job. By every significant measure white people still own this country by a very, very wide margin. It’s why we have the privilege of being offended because someone wants us to take down a flag used to lead troops to preserve slavery by force and rally opposition to Civil Rights in the ‘60s. Black people don’t even have their own flag. They share the stars and stripes with the rest of us. That was sort of the point of the war.
2. My Black Friend Says…
Here’s the thing about institutional racism, sexism, homophobia, etc… it’s institutional. That means it is all around us being fed back into our systems every minute of every day. Nobody is immune to that, and because of that fact you end up with some interesting demographic quirks.
For instance, a significant portion of the movement against allowing women to vote were women themselves. Or try this on for size, approximately 3,700 slave-owners in the South were free blacks. In neither case were those people right. Black slave owners did not make slavery OK. All it did was show that the only way to reach anything close to equality with whites on the old South was to join their system and oppress their fellows… mostly by playing up as much white blood as they could claim.
So you might have a black friend or a family member that’s cool with the rebel flag. I have idiot friends too. I try not to use their opinions to prove points.
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1. Well What About the American Flag?
Actually, commenters like this have something close to a point. Let’s be very clear; America was founded by racists and governed by racists from the very beginning. They’re on our money and yet we revere them as founders and great men. They were perfectly happy for the most part owning other people.
Anyone who thinks the North fought the Civil War for the sole purpose of raising up black people is badly misled. States that had slavery but who did not rise up in rebellion were allowed to keep those slaves all through the war until the passage of the 13th Amendment. Lincoln didn’t free any of those guys. And the North was not a bastion of free racial thought. Blacks were still heavily discriminated by the Yankees. They may have drawn the line at slavery in the end, but the number of people who wanted blacks to have all the same rights as whites was as statically insignificant as the number of black soldiers and slave owners in the South.
The American flag has flown over the heads of every racist jerk in our history, that’s true. And yet, it is a living flag just as our Constitution is a living document. It’s a flag that has flown over the courts that have struck down inequalities and above the office of president where a man who might once have been eligible to be bought and sold himself in another time sits in the Oval Office. The Union Army may have been as full of racist jerks as the comments section on Yahoo News, but they did at least go to war and make a significant leap forward for us as a people under the American flag. It changes as we change. That’s the difference between it and the Confederate flag; the latter remains what it was. It’s as dead as the question of slavery, and truly honoring our heritage is honoring how far we’ve come.