The Confederate Flag, America’s Swastika: Issues Revisited
Since writing my earlier post Racists and Their Precious Confederate Flag, I’ve received a good amount of comments, most of them to the tune of the following:
History is not always neat and pretty. The Civil War marks a dark chapter of American History. When looking at a symbol it means many things to many people. To me the Confederate Flag represents the death of thousands of people in a war that was fought for several reasons. I agree the flag has been tarnished by groups like the KKK but the sacrifice of those brave men who died in combat for that flag needs to be remembered. The KKK uses the christian cross and the bible are you claiming that they are racist symbols too? By the way only 7% of southern whites owned slaves. More than that seven percent fought and died for that flag. Many nothern states allowed slavery as well and ironically enough two percent of the free black population owned slaves.
Firstly, I’m delighted that there are people out there willing to debate both sides of the issues with some intelligence.
Secondly, I’d like to address some issues brought up by this comment, as well as others:
Continuing the Debate:Many people have pointed out that while groups like the KKK have definitely tarnished the flag, most southern whites view it as a valid, preservable part of their heritage and history. More specifically, the comment posted above points out one very important fact: the KKK also used the Bible and the Christian cross to promote their message, so why aren’t they as hotly contested as the ‘Bars and Stars?’Well, there’s a few reasons why neither the Christian cross nor the Bible are viewed as symbols or racism. First: both items (cross and Bible) continue to be used for their intended purposes, the spreading of a positive religious message by a large majority of the people who believe in that message. The KKK was in a clear minority by using these religious symbols to promote a negative message (Jim Jones, David Koresh, and even Charles Manson all used the Bible in negative ways). On the other side of the same coin, the Confederate Battle Flag was born out of rebellion, flown as the southern states sought to form their own nation, and then utilized by the KKK members and non-members alike to spread a separatist message. That message also included the idea that the various races were not created equal, as it is stated in our Constitution*. Throughout American history, the Confederate flag was almost exclusively flown in defiance to the U.S. central government (“The South Will Rise Again!!”) and to promote the degradation of the non-white races. Just like the former-pagan symbol of the swastika was used solely by the Nazi party to promote their ideals of white-supremacy, The confederate flag has become America’s own swastika.Now, concerning those men who died defending the confederate flag, I will say nothing ill towards them. Having been a military man myself, I understand fully the committment it takes to voluntarily risk one’s life for what one believes in. I also agree that the civil war was a dark and trying time that almost, and by all accounts should’ve, destroyed our young nation. I also realize, unlike most African-Americans (and probably most Americans, period) that the civil war was not fought over slavery, not directly. At the heart of the issue was the right of the individual states to rule themselves with as little input from the central government as possible. Out of that bloody but necessary struggle was born the balance between state and federal laws we have today. However, the issue of states rights was largely over slavery.As for the number of southern white slave owners, I will not argue with that, either. Owning slaves during that time is like owning your own land nowadays; it was (and is) a symbol of the well-to-do, the wealthy, high-class, or whatever else you choose to call the ‘upper crust’ of society. While only 7% of southern whites actually owned slaves, any southern white could assist, and be rewarded for, capturing run away slaves, and many did. Also, the fact that a southern white did not own slaves does not automatically divorce them from the problem of overwhelming discrimination against blacks during, and after, slavery. By most accounts, just being a white person was enough to enjoy many things slaves and newly-freed African-Americans could only dream of. Of course, as time marched on, the requisites for being included in the ranks of the social elite had to deal more with money and material possessions and less about just being white, but the fact still remains that white people did, and still do, enjoy more opportunities than most blacks ever did, or will.
Now let me address a common argument I hear all the time from white people of today. During any given discussion on race relations in any American town, regardless of the demographics of that town and its geographic location in relation to the Mason-Dixon line, white people are almost certain to say the following two statements:
“But I have black friends. I know a lot of black people.“ And my personal favorite:”
I’ve always been fair to black people, and I’ve never supported discrimination or owned slaves, therefore I’m not apart of the racism problem in America“
I’ll save my favorite for last and, for the time being, address the former statement:
Firstly, every white person in America today “knows” a black person, or is “friends” with a black person. Why point this out? Well, many white people will state this “fact” (the validity of which we’ll get to later) in an effort to distance themselves with the obvious racial tension that still exists in this nation. While it may be true that every white person knows of a black person in their neighborhood, how many can truthfully say “I hang out with them, I don’t mind eating in public (or private) with them”. Or better yet, how many white families can honestly say that they allow their white kids to go “across the tracks” to play with the black kids? Or even down the street to play with the black kids? Not many, I can tell you. This is why say “fact” in quotes…it’s not really a fact that every, or even most, white people truly know black people…whites simply are content to ‘view from a distance’, but are unwilling to mingle and get involved with black person’s life. Sounds a lot like “separate, but equal” doesn’t it?
Now for my all-time favorite, the “I never owned slaves” argument. Well, it’s quite obvious that you never owned slaves, as the 13th amendment to the constitution was ratified in 1865. This, however, does not mean you’re automatically separate from the problem. Neither does the statement “I never committed or endorsed discrimination against blacks or other races“. While I do applaud you for having the moral courage to not discriminate against non-whites, again, this does not divorce you from the racial problem in this country. Why? Well, for one main reason; if you did not discriminate against non-whites yourself, someone probably did on your behalf. Just being white is almost enough to walk around in a better situation than most blacks. Given that, let me ask you one question: When have you ever done anything to stop discrimination against blacks? When your black neighbor told you that he was pulled over and rudely searched by a white cop for no apparent reason, did you help your black neighbor report the cop? Or when that young black man was shot on his wedding day in New York, did organize a peaceful demonstration in his honor? If you live in NYC, did you boycott? Protest? Anything? How about when it came time to vote on the confederate flag in your state. Did you consider the pain that flag causes many black families? Do you even care that countless numbers of blacks were murdered, hung, raped, maimed, and discriminated against all under the flying bars and stars? Or did you chant “It’s our heritage”, or “These colors won’t run”?
See, it’s not enough to choose to not be apart of the problem, you have to choose to be a part of the solution. There is no middle ground, no pacifists. Either you worked for the Nazis or you worked against them. Back then it was that simple, and that well-known. Today, it’s very much the same. Either you help solve problems or you help create them, you don’t just sit back and watch.