Fly that Flag as Long as You Don’t Mind Being Thought Of as a Racist

People who continue to display the Confederate flag fall into three categories: racists, assholes who don’t mind being insulting, or the willfully ignorant.

The first category is simple: This is a flag that has, from the moment it was sewn, stood for slavery and racial inequality. After the Civil War ended, it was not seen again for many years — until racists in the 50s resurrected it as their symbolic flag in their fight against integrating the schools. (And it wasn’t even the real Confederate flag!) The KKK adopted it soon thereafter and racists everywhere winked and nodded at each other when they saw that flag on each other’s cars and clothing. They know what it means.content

The second category are those people who know that people associate it with racism and are insulted by it but don’t care. Why? Because at the root of it, they’re just assholes. There will always be assholes. There are assholes on the left, too, and there’s no cure for it, apparently.

The third category is the one we can deal with:  The willfully ignorant. I say “willfully” because the facts are out there, but they are refusing to accept them (in much the same way people deny evolution or climate change). Some of my southern friends fall into this category. (I grew up in Richmond, home of the Confederacy). I don’t think they’re racists; they just are sticking their fingers in their ears and saying “La la la I can’t hear you” about the evidence.

First of all, understand that “ignorance” is not an insult. Everyone is ignorant about something. I am ignorant of particle physics, brain surgery, and fashion. But ignorance is something that can be cured, through education. It’s only something to be ashamed of if you are willfully ignorant and insist on holding a viewpoint while refusing to educate yourself.

When I said this on my Facebook page, I had a huge reaction that I did not expect. Allow me to summarize the arguments people gave and my responses:

But not everyone agrees that the flag symbolizes racism.

Those people who deny that are fooling themselves. They’re not facing reality. To pretend that that flag means something innocent and pure is to ignore (a) what it has meant since the day it was created; and (b) what the vast majority of Americans think it means. You can’t take a symbol and magically make it something nice.

You could fly a swastika and say that it’s an ancient symbol used by American Indians and be absolutely correct, but that’s not what it means now.

That’s the distinction. You don’t get to wave a wand and say “Poof! This flag no longer means what it once did!” Society picks meanings. You don’t get to choose your own meaning. Americans know what that flag means. Those who embrace it and claim otherwise are being intellectually dishonest or are willfully ignorant.

“Nuh uh, it means something else” is not a really strong argument.

No, that flag stands for the fight for freedom.

This one always gets me — the war was fought for “freedom.” The freedom to own other people as slaves. It was fought for “state’s rights” — the right to own other people. It was fought for “economic issues” — like the right to use slaves to make the economy work.

It all boils down to people wanting to hold other people as slaves. Any other interpretation is a whitewashing of history.

The flag stands for Southern Pride.

You want to honor “Southern pride”? Pick another symbol for southern pride other than the flag of treason, slavery, and intolerance, because that flag means you’re proud of those things.

And why don’t the north, east, and west have a flag for their own regional pride?

No, the only part of the country that thinks it needs a symbol to separate itself from the rest of the United States is the part that used that same symbol to try to leave the United States.

The flag stands for those Southerners who sadly died in the Civil War, many of whom did not necessarily support slavery.

Just like many Germans fought in WWII but who were themselves somewhat innocent victims of their leaders. But we don’t fly the Nazi flag to honor them.

Look — this flag stands for racism. There is a reason the Klan is angry about its removal from South Carolina’s state house. There is a reason they are holding rallies about it. There is a reason black churches are burning all over South Carolina. It’s not because of “freedom.”

Even when I was a kid growing up in the south in the 60s, I knew what that flag meant. None of my close friends ever wore anything with that flag, and at no time did I ever say to myself “Geez, I really like the south so I’m going to fly a flag that is usually associated with a cartoon drawing of an old confederate soldier saying the south will rise again.”

It’s not about the flag; it’s about freedom of speech!

This is a red herring. No one is trying to ban the flag (as I previously pointed out). You have every right, under the 1st Amendment, to display that flag. And I have every right under that same Amendment to criticize you for it. Freedom of Speech does not mean freedom from the consequences of that speech.

You probably want to ban “the Dukes of Hazzard” too!

I don’t want to ban anything. It’s just a TV show that represents the attitudes of the times. We can’t erase history, nor should we deny it. People who claim the flag isn’t about racism — they’re the ones trying to rewrite history.

The United States flag hasn’t always stood for good things either, you know.

The American flag has stood for things good and bad; and we are constantly fighting to make things better and right the wrongs of the past. The American flag stood for freedom but admittedly only freedom for white men at first, but we changed that. That flag stands for progress and has been used by groups fighting for their equality for hundreds of years.

The Confederate flag, on the other hand, stood for slavery and discrimination from the start — and still does. That’s why it was used by bigots in their fight against integration and equality and why the KKK flies it today. There has been no civil progress made with that flag as its symbol. That flag has never been the flag of equality or justice and has never been used by any group wanting to expand rights and make the US a better place.

No matter what category you may fit into, if you are displaying that flag, people are going to assume you’re a racist. Do you really want the KKK on your side? If they support it and are using it as their symbol, does that make you reconsider in the slightest? Do you really want people to think you agree with them?

That’s what the flag means, no matter how some people have tried to rewrite history. If they don’t think you’re a racist, they’re going to think you’re an asshole or willfully ignorant. None of those categories are flattering.

So don’t go whining and complaining when that happens.

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