On June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof murdered nine Black people in a historically Black church in Charleston, South Carolina. Shortly thereafter, it was discovered the shooter obsessed over Confederate symbols, and since then a debate has raged over the presence of such symbols in U.S. culture. Since this is the U.S., there was no cogent discussion about gun violence, but that is a separate rant.
What took the spotlight alongside the horrific and disturbingly sadistic nature of the crime was the reverence Roof had for the Confederate States of America, namely its flag[i]. The abundance of Confederate memorials and symbolism in South Carolina and around the nation, including a Confederate Flag flown at the South Carolina Statehouse, immediately came under harsh criticism after the shooting, and such criticism was met with feverish opposition.
Around this time, the #BlackLivesMatter movement was picking up steam as a national uprising and simmering racial tensions in the U.S. had been ripped wide open yet again, as they continued to be every few weeks through the present day. Certain groups of people, bonded by ideology, defend the presence of Confederate Flags and memorials as being historical symbols of heritage while simultaneously skewering the #BlackLivesMatter movement as being anti-White racism, with some even calling it a terrorist group[ii].
Other than the people making the arguments, what does the presence of Confederate symbolism have to do with #BlackLivesMatter? A lot. Namely, the presence of such symbols send a message to Black citizens that their lives don’t matter.
Consider this: does Germany fly the Nazi flag as a symbol of its heritage and history? No, it is ashamed of its dark past and learns about its atrocities without commemorating or celebrating them. Would any of the White people who support Confederate symbolism be equally supportive of erecting statues and flying flags for ISIS, Boko Haram, Hezbollah, Al Qaida, Iran, or the Taliban? These are groups and governments that fantasize about the elimination of, or at minimum, the absolute social demotion of Westerners. It would be a backward, offensive, and purely insane notion to suggest such symbols appear in American culture. Why would we, the target of their malice, want to commemorate them?
From condemnation of anti-American sentiments in the Middle East and outrage over Obama’s “apology tour,” to the mere suggestion that a Southerner be a bit less proud of their slave-whipin’ great-grandpappy, we refuse to accept any offense toward White Americans. But we simultaneously refuse to acknowledge the salt we pour into the festering wounds of Black people in America and, in doing that, we tell them loud and clear that their lives do not matter. We are somehow perfectly fine memorializing the regime that enslaved them like we do to no other violent regieme. Black Americans have been singled out as the one group it is acceptable to ignore the concerns and feelings of. Their history? They’d better keep it to themselves! We’re not worried about it. Claiming that #AllLivesMatter doesn’t help – it just pretends there is not a problem at all.
The crux of my argument rests upon the Confederacy, and therefore its symbolism, being inherently racist. “Southern heritage” and Confederate Flag defenders, known as “flaggers,” are hopelessly oblivious to their own history[iii]. Here are the things they’ll never bring up in their hollow rhetoric of how Confederate symbolism is somehow not racist.
- The Confederate Flag was not a pop-culture symbol during the reconstruction period after the Civil War had ended or during the early 20th century. In 1948, it was resurrected by the Dixiecrats, a Southern political party designed to sustain segregation and oppose Civil Rights.
- The Confederate Flag was incorporated into the Georgia State Flag two years after Brown v. Board as an act of defiance and opposition to integration.
- The Confederate Flag was raised over the statehouses of many Southern states, such as South Carolina, in the ’50s and ’60s as a symbol of opposition to integration of schools, the end of public segregation, and Civil Rights.
- It was because of these events in the mid-20th century that the KKK adopted the flag as one of its main symbols. Neo-Nazis followed suit.
“Oh, well I don’t associate the flag with that history,” the “flaggers” will cry, “I associate it with the original history of the Confederacy – a pure heritage of state rights!”
Ok, let’s take a look at those states and their rights.
- From Vice President of the Confederate States of America Alexander Stephens’ “Cornerstone Speech” on March 21, 1861: “[Our government’s] foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.” Sure, other topics were covered, mainly economic concerns directly related to the sustainment of slavery, but it still remains that the “cornerstone” of the Confederacy was the inferiority and enslavement of “the negro.”
- From the Declaration of Causes in Texas’ Articles of Secession: “[Texas] was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery– the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits– a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time.”
- As if that snippet from Texas wasn’t bad enough, there’s more in there about slavery, including this: “In all the non-slave-holding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color– a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law.”
- In fact, nearly every listed cause for secession of the Southern states was either directly or indirectly (upset at economic sanctions from the North in response to slavery) related to holding slaves.
- As Confederate Commander John S. Mosby put it, “I’ve never heard of any other cause than slavery.”
With any reasonable understanding of history, it’s strikingly clear that the Confederate Flag and symbols of the Confederacy, such as statues and memorials, are overtly racist. Quite often, the people flying the flag are just as racist. In October 2015, 15 Georgian “flaggers” were indicted on charges of domestic terrorism and criminal gang activity for crashing the birthday party of a young Black boy at his rural home and threating to “kill y’all niggers” while brandishing guns and flying Confederate Flags. When someone in the party yelled that there were children around, the group responded, “We’ll kill them too!”
This isn’t 1880s Georgia. This is 2015 America.
Confederate Flag and statue/memorial supporters can spew empty rhetoric that the symbols represent heritage and history, and that’s not necessarily untrue. But it’s a heritage of hate and a history of racial oppression and violence.
With events like this still occurring, with racial tensions at a relative high point, and given the unabashedly racist nature of the Confederacy and its degenerate supporters, why is it still up for debate as to whether we should remove Confederate symbolism from our culture?
The world learns about the Holocaust without glorifying Nazis through flags or statues. We learn about genocide in Africa without celebrating the perpetrators. The apartheid-era flags of Rhodesia and South Africa are used only by White Supremacists. But since Black lives do not matter here in the U.S., we cannot reach a consensus on the removal of Confederate symbolism, and that’s a national disgrace.
[i] To appease die-hard “flaggers,” I will acknowledge that the “Confederate Flag” of modern pop culture is actually the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll refer to it as the Confederate Flag because that is its place in our culture.
[ii] Accusations of #BlackLivesMatter being a “terrorist” organization, or even being violent at all, have been shown to be unfounded. This argument is a repurposing of the KKK’s arguments against the Civil Rights Movement in the ’50s and ‘60s.
[iii] By the way, here’s a study showing that supporters of the Confederate Flag are more much likely to be racist than those who do not support he flag, including more than 60% of flag supporters who disapprove to interracial marriage. The study also found that flag defenders were significantly less knowledgeable of Southern history, flag history, and Confederate history than those who are opposed to the flag.