NPR and the local radios have been taking callers expressing their opinions about the Charleston tragedy, which has sparked larger controversy over the Confederate flag. Working for my high school newspaper in northern Virginia, I contemplated the topic during a piece dealing with race, in which I interviewed a diversity of students. Not one of the students whom I spoke with believed that the Confederate flag was an acceptable motif or symbol. One of my peers even explained his misconception about the flag’s history, seeing it only as a way of displaying Southern pride (until he came to understand its associations and context).
Erected as a symbol of the South, its declared President and the values it fought for, the Confederate flag brings to mind the Civil War era: the most divisive time period in American history. The Civil War, inspired by and fought for for more reasons than one, is undeniably marked by the brutality of slavery. While listening to the radio, many claimed that the Confederate flag stands for southern pride or for their ancestors who were veterans of the Confederation. Obviously the Confederate lost to the Union and thankfully, all fifty states are under one United States of America, one president and one flag. Pride in one’s ancestors or home is understandable and should go without need for justification, regardless of disagreement to fundamental principles they may have believed in. However, the flag is a widespread symbol tainted by the very principles the Confederacy stood for.
The Confederate flag may not stand to instigate, but the context from which it was born should not be forgotten or replaced. The Confederate flag should not fly in fronts of government buildings (or at all, in my opinion). This is not an encroachment of privacy or upon individual rights — this is a decision founded upon a consensus that the larger connotations of the flag — slavery, divisiveness, secession — overshadow personal meaning and should not stand at the forefront of American foundations or values, but inside of a museum where its meaning will be preserved with other memories of the past.
As is the choice to fly the flag and believe in its continuity, the choice for companies, such as Amazon and Walmart, to discontinue its sale is completely within their rights. Reddit, an online news/social media forum, has taken steps to shut down communities deemed to encourage hatred or condemning of certain groups of people. In response to an idea heard on the radio: their choice to discontinue Confederate flag merchandise is completely unlike discontinuing the sale of LGBTQ merchandise. The LGBTQ flag symbolizes peoples’ pride and encourages their own self and societal acceptance. Fundamentally, it promotes love, not hatred. If there were a flag symbolizing hatred toward the LGBTQ community, that one would be unacceptable in accordance with Amazon’s policies. The Confederate flag is like its opposition; while it may promote unity amongst people of the American South, it also draws a division between America and within a community that once stood as a force against the other half.
To address fears over encroachment on rights and freedoms of speech, worries over whether other motifs, such as the cross, should not be had. The Confederate flag is more than a symbol of unity: it is a symbol of hatred and a statement of one side against the other. To compare a flag of racial supremacy can be compared only to the Nazi flag (not churches, or anything else).
The swastika, originally a Sanskrit motif meaning “well-being" (which has since been tarnished), was taken and used by the Nazis, who conducted one of the largest genocides in history, targeting multiple groups of peoples they superficially perceived as beneath them: most famously, people of Jewish faith. Nazi Germany and the Confederate States of America existed as vastly different bodies in their actions, intentions and contexts. Yet the Nazi flag is now banned in Germany, France (with the exception of historical purpose) and Hungary. This opinion is not unpopular; actress Whoopi Goldberg stated, “It would be like having the swastika flag flying on your next-door neighbor. If it continues to fly, the statement that’s being made is that ‘We miss this really crappy part of history.'”
The fact that church shooter Dylan Roof used the Confederate flag to declare his twisted belief in white supremacy and in some eyes, to reignite a race war, is not illogical. The flag stands for exactly this, despite additional meanings it may take on by individuals. The weight of history is not one that can be replaced.
On the topic of the race war, I would like to highlight another point on the radio concerning race and whether it matters: one caller stated that if racism existed, then Rachel Dolezal could never have gained power. Thankfully, the radio host proceeded to almost immediately thank and dismiss her. This does not prove that racism does not exist because an African American person can gain political influence; it has proved a widespread agreement that one’s race and ethnic background is not a choice, but an unchangeable part of oneself that is fundamental to being and pertinent to perspective and consequently, societal perception and experience.
Racism will not simply cease to exist with the banning of the flag and the events of the Civil War will not fade to fiction. For those who fight that the flag is not racist, is it as easy to deny the fact that the Confederacy existed to divide and separate? Honor of individuals should not be stuck to a flag, but should exist in memories of people who should be able to place meaning in people as they are instead of causes they stand for. Was Roof’s usage of the Confederate flag so far manipulated that its meaning was indecipherable? Was it so far off from its roots that his donning was illogical?
Southern society may be decorated with Confederate-themed paraphernalia and a single flag’s removal may seem insignificant in terms of its extensiveness, but the larger statement that its removal will make will echo hope for the future of America. Just because change may be hard to make or peoples’ ways of thinking may be ingrained or unchangeable, it should not discourage a belief in change. South Carolina state Sen. Lee Bright stated, “These are honorable men who fought for their homes, their home state; to disgrace them in the name of political correctness is just wrong. They’re not here to defend themselves.”
The removal of the flag is not a disgrace to their honor and the sacrifices they made will be forever remembered; but the flag has been a longtime symbol of Confederate values, which are outdated and no longer have a place in American society. The honor of the soldiers will remain, but alone, and without need for support by the flag. At the cornerstone of the flag are beliefs in separation, resistance and supremacy. By removing the flag, we are not removing the existence of these soldiers or their individual lives; we are removing the side for which they fought: one that exists no longer, losing to a unification that is the strength at the core of the United States of America.
While memories and honor of Confederate soldiers are not up to us to judge to remain, the flag as a symbolic cause should not. By removing the flag, we are taking a step to remove a way of thinking. We are not working backwards; we are working for a stronger future based upon unity and acceptance and without any semblances of separation or hints of supremacy.
The unforgiving history that flies with the Confederate flag is one that cannot be buried or denied — it is one that will ring with reminders of slavery, divisiveness and a history of hatred and discrimination, and should be lowered from its staff and laid to rest.
Take down the #ConfederateFlag at the SC Capitol. To many, it is a symbol of racial hatred. Remove it now to honor #Charleston victims.— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) June 20, 2015
Good point, Mitt. https://t.co/Ryusfp8Xbh— President Obama (@POTUS) June 21, 2015