racism in America

What’s In A Flag?


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Originally published on Daily Kos June 9, 2017

“In the 1950s and 1960s, civil rights activism and new federal laws inspired the same resistance to racial progress and once again led to a spike in the use of Confederate imagery. In fact, it was in the 1950s, after segregation in public schools was declared unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education, that many Southern states erected Confederate flags atop their state government buildings.” 
― Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption


Earlier this year, one Corey Stewart, an overcooked potato currently running for Virginia governor against Republican fixer and bagman Ed Gillespie, campaigned at a Confederate-flag-bedecked gedunk on Virginia's Eastern Shore (a home for retrograde politics ever since Governor Berkeley fled Bacon's Rebellion for safety in 1676.)

A few words about Corey Stewart: He is Chair of the Board of Supervisors of Prince William County, Virginia, and drew national media attention for spearheading Prince William County's 2007 crackdown on illegal immigrants. He was hired as the Virginia chairman of the Trump for President campaign in December 2015, and fired in October 2016. He also drew attention for his use of the word "cuckservative" in a Reddit AMA.

Republican candidate for Governor of Virginia, Corey Stewart, at a campaign kickoff rally in Occoquan, Va., AP Photo/Steve Helber

Let's be clear: Stewart hails from Minnesota and has no ties to the Confederacy aside from whiteness. Stewart has made common cause with those Virginians who have elevated the Confederate flag and Civil War monuments to false-god status:

“Over my dead body when I’m governor of Virginia are we ever going to take down the statue of Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson or any hero of the commonwealth of Virginia,” he roared in a dance hall plastered with the Stars and Bars. He put in a good word for the flag, too.

“I’m proud to be next to the Confederate flag,” said Stewart, a Minnesota native and chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. “That flag is not about racism, folks. It’s not about hatred. It’s not about slavery. It’s about our heritage. … It’s time that we stop running away from our heritage. It’s time that we embrace it.”

Otherwise known as shoveling fresh meat to the base.

Americans have had to endure 150 years of revisionist history from sore losers. I have (hyperbolically) argued with Confederate-flag defenders that, had we as a nation not been beguiled by Lincoln's "soft peace" after the Civil War with paroles for everyone, and executed several thousand Rebel legislators and top-ranking officers, perhaps the many apologists for the so-called "Lost Cause" would not have made so bold with their pens.

And perhaps we would not have had to continue to endure the American swastika as an emblem of the worst instincts of the American experience.

When they say, "heritage, not hate," they lie.

Let's be clear: the Confederate Flag and its derivatives, including the Battle Flag (which is often confused for "the Confederate flag) was created as a symbol of oppression. Period. The Confederacy was founded on the explicit principle that slavery is the “natural and normal condition” of black people. This is not arguable.

The flag’s promoter said:

Our idea is simply to combine the present battle-flag with a pure white standard sheet… As a people, we are fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause it would be hailed by the civilized world as THE WHITE MAN’S FLAG.

If that is not sufficiently convincing, take what Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederate government said in the “Cornerstone Address,” specifically addressing America’s belief that all men are created equal:

Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its 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.

The problem with the flag, and the monuments, is that they have become rallying images for the worst impulse of illiterate, retrograde types. The Trump era gas given implicit permission to white supremacists, neo-fascists and assorted Nazis to come out of the shadows and rejoin public life.

On May 14, Self-proclaimed white nationalist Richard Spencer (he of punch-a-nazi meme fame) led a tiki-torch carrying group of demonstrators in Charlottesville to protest plans to remove a Confederate monument.

Via Periscope, Spencer addressed the crowd thus:

“You will not replace us. You will not destroy us.You cannot destroy us. We have awoken. We are here. We are never going away.” 

And as if to prove the point, we learn via The Root this week that the KKK has filed paperwork for a demonstration in Charlottesville on July 8. And a group who call themselves “Unity and Security for America”  have applied to hold another event on Aug. 12.

In a tasty bit of writing-with-a-flourish, The Root’s Michael Harriot describes organizer Jason Kessler, the blogger too racist for The Daily Caller, as

…one of the many butt-hurt white boys upset over the removal of Confederate monuments—also believes in the bullshit premise of “white genocide,” once writing, “White people are rapidly becoming a minority in the U.S. and Europe,” and adding, “If we’re not able to advocate for ourselves we may go extinct…” 

…neofascists have lately made the statue a symbol of “political correctness gone mad,” because the white man’s ego has lately become as fragile as his toehold at the top of America’s social hierarchy. 

And that’s where we are. The Trump era (Eric Trump: “Democrats aren’t even people”) has unleashed the zombie id of the American right, and it expresses itself in flag and monument-fetish. This is a movement nourished by hatred of the other, as old as wars of extermination of the Native American, enslavement of the African, and hatred of each successive wave of immigrants whose arrival surely announced the defilement of our women and the destruction of our way of life, whatever that means.

Racist ideology runs through the bloodstream of our body politic as surely as does a taste for violence. It has ignorance and fear at its root, and definition of “the other” as dangerous.

Symbols have no inherent meanings, only those people assign them. The Confederate flag (and assorted Confederate monuments) is now assigned many different meanings: a symbol of slavery, an emblem of rebellion, a guidon for white supremacists, an historical artifact,  even a benign display of regional pride. But as white nationalists make bold to reopen old wounds and sow deep divisions, we have to remember the words of Edmund Burke:

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.


Note: If you are a history geek like me, and want to know more about Bacon's Rebellion (1676–1677), a litlte known and less understood episode of history, the net effect of which was to codify and rigidify a race-based caste system in British America, I recommend this article by James Douglas Rice in the online Encyclopedia Virginia.

 


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is the author of numerous rants, articles and spittle-flecked invective, and was active in Occupy. He lives in Southeastern Virginia with his wife Contrary and is the proud parent of a recent college graduate.

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