It’s been an interesting couple of weeks for this former banner of the south, first brought into the news by a single flag flying over the South Carolina capitol to be followed by some of the biggest retailers in the country following suit to remove merchandise bearing the symbol from their shelves as well.
And a lot of folks who’ve always been fans of the flag have been particularly pissed, citing everything from censorship to heritage and southern pride…
So I wanted to vent a few thoughts about this because I passed a couple of huge trucks on the road today – one with the Stars & Stripes hanging from the back and the other with the Confederate flag, and I couldn’t help but roll my eyes because while the last couple of weeks have caused a lot of us to rethink how tolerant we are of seeing this emblem around us, there are clearly still others – and there will always be others – who only see what they want to see.
First of all, the easy part of the equation – the flag flying above the state capitol in SC … it doesn’t belong there. The south lost the Civil War over 150 years ago and represents, if nothing else, a subset of the union that tried to secede from the United States of America. A state can’t claim to be united when it still flies a symbol of treason over its capital.
Now as for the private sector’s perspective on the Confederate flag, that’s where it gets interesting because sure, freedom of speech protects anyone who wants to fly or sell the flag even if it may be dated and controversial, yet here we see the free market at work where major players like Amazon and Walmart have also made the decision where it might not pay – this time with their own bottom line – to sell these types of products.
And I know that a lot of people like to write things like this off as our society simply being too politically correct, but I think there’s more to it than that because our history is littered with changes in public perception as society has evolved to rule out things that it no longer deems acceptable – be it prohibition, slavery, women’s suffrage, etc… What some are calling politically correct equates to others saying, “You know what? We used to turn a blind eye to that in the past, but it’s not cool and we shouldn’t be doing that anymore.”
We’re seeing it very much forming a critical mass with gay marriage right now. There were still gay people who wanted equal rights decades earlier, however at the time society was more willing to look the other way while those individuals were treated as second class citizens in many respects by their fellow citizens. And while we’re certainly not there yet, the tides have at least turned enough on that front where majorities are speaking up and denouncing the treatment of their gay friends and family members as something that isn’t right and needs to change.
Waving the Confederate flag around really isn’t any different, and so while a bunch of people still somehow see that flag as the banner of the rebel and tattoo it on their skin as a symbol of pride, another subset is willing to consider the entire story and admit that maybe it’s not something to be as proud about as others would like to think, especially considering racial tensions that still bleed strong throughout our country.
So personally I think that anyone who chooses has every right to fly the Confederate flag should they like, with the exception of government buildings where its tainted history simply has no place, but that doesn’t mean I’m still disposed to turning a blind eye to seeing it on pick-up trucks and t-shirts and every other redneck icon that they carry so proudly. That flag has a lot more to do with than just Lynyrd Skynyrd and Budweiser and the Dukes of Hazzard just like gay marriage is a lot more than just a couple of queers flaunting their sexuality, and in the last couple of weeks I think more than anything we’ve heard segments of the public starting to call bullshit on all of that.
Because the thing is, eventually we’re going to have to shed those losing anthems of a period long behind us if we truly want to move forward as a society – a society that can honestly say that racism no longer divides us as it once did. Coming from a time when it was literally cool to keep other people as slaves, I would like to think that this would be a little more obvious than it’s proving to be, but what can I say?
Getting 350 million people all on the same page is tough and collectively as a country we’re still pretty young, but at least we’re learning … albeit slowly.