By: LOGAN BLEDSOE
Lets face it, the look of the Confederate flag is a very controversial one. It’s rooted in a deeply racist culture of slavery and bigotry. Yet somehow in modern America, it has the power to bring masses of southerners together to speak up for their beloved flag. If you ask anybody who supports the use of the Confederate Flag, they will say it stands for southern pride. It is a hard argument to make that everyone who flies the Confederate flag is a racist. If that were true, then America would have never left the 1950’s, given the amount of people that own a Confederate flag.
First let’s talk about the issue of the infamous flag flying above government buildings in states like South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. Before we begin, let’s momentarily put aside our opinions of whether it is racist or not, and simply focus on pure logic here. The Confederate flag no longer officially represents any part of America. It is not a government authorized flag and it is not recognized by any other country as our flag either. You would not have the flag of ANTIFA flying over a government building would you? Nor would you have a Nazi flag flying over a government builidng. These flags all have one thing in common: they do not represent the United States as a whole. They may represent different demographics and small groups of society, and there is always an overwhelming majority that does not agree or identify with their beliefs. The Confederate flag does not represent the United States or its government. Therefore it should never be flown over a government building in tandem with the official flag of the United States.
Now let’s talk about private use of the Confederate flag. The Neo-Nazis and KKK are legally allowed to fly their own swastika-ridden flags, and those are undoubtedly meant to be racist and hateful, yet that right is protected. The Supreme Court has ruled multiple times that hate speech is a protected right (see Matal V. Tam). The use of the Confederate flag is up to personal choice. To most people who fly it, they will claim it represents their heritage and their ancestors’ courage to fight for what they believed in. Greg Cler, a former Mayor of a small town in Illinois, states that he sees the flag, “as a fitting symbol of white people’s shared grievances.” Cler goes on to say that he flies the flag for both sides, the suffering of black people in that era, and for the wrongs that the confederates blindly committed and died for.
To be clear, slavery was the main issue over which the Civil War was fought, but to most Southerners, it was a gateway issue to more restriction and laws that would harm the economy and well-being of the southern states. The entire economy of the South was built around slavery; many people in the South saw the abolition of slavery as an attempt to silence the voice, and rights of the southern states. Of course this wasn’t true, and for the Union, the issue was the purely abolishment of slavery alone, not the suprression of the southern states. It should also be noted that there was a very heavy animosity between the southern states and the northern states. With the election of President Lincoln, this animosity hit a boiling point. Lincoln was a known abolitionist, and many southern politicians pledged that the south would secede from the Union, should he be elected. It is also important to keep in mind that only 2% of southerners were slave owners, most of which didn’t fight in the Civil War, according to our history textbooks in World Civilization.
So now that we have a history of why the Confederates fought, I want to focus on the cultural animosity between the North and South. Hence the term “yankees” (Union soldiers) and “rebs” or “rebels” (Confederate soldiers). This cultural animosity has lived on into the modern era. If you have ever read the book Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, he explains the South’s problems with “outsiders” and the stubborn pride that has plagued the region for over 2 centuries.
To summarize, yes the Confederate flag is undoubtedly connected to racism. However, to southerners, that is not inherently was it stands for. Yes, it has been used by many racist groups and been present at many incidents of hatred, but the Confederate flag was made as the flag of the states that seceded from the Union; it ultimately stands for southern pride. The issue that the flag is connected with was race and slavery, but it was not made to specifcally and directly represent racism and hate. The majority of those who fly it, particularly today, are celebrating their pride to be part of a larger community with a deep history. Could it be in poor taste? Of course. Has it been used in poor taste? Without a doubt. Is the use of the Confederate flag considered hate speech? That is up to your interpretation. Either way, hate speech or not, its use is protected in the First amendment.
In the end, we are all Americans; we should do our best to not divide ourselves with our beliefs, but rather be respectful and understanding to each other’s history and heritage. I do not deny that the Confederate flag has been, and is continuously used in an overtly racist manner, but the modern display of the Confederate flag, in an overwhelming majority of cases, is benign, and is meant to have no connection with race at all. You may disagree with it, and you have that right, you also have the right to be offended and upset, but getting upset over flags that may not intend to bring you emotional pain, but rather commemorate their ancestry and the blood that was spilled so this country could be the way it is today, will not solve anything. It will only further deepen the line in the sand that is drawn between America and its different ethnic backgrounds and political ideologies. I urge you, the reader, that next time you see someone flying a Confederate flag, to ask them, what does this flag means to them? The answer may surprise you.