The Confederate Flag, the South, and political correctness (or not).
I love the South.
Since I’ve moved to New York, my appreciation for the South has only deepened. For one, you can’t get a decent glass of sweet ice tea up here. I miss Southern hospitality, walking down a sidewalk and greeting everyone I pass, regardless of whether I’ve met them before. And during those cold New York winters, I really missed the year-round Florida sunshine.
Yet there is one thing that I haven’t missed up here: the ubiquity of the Confederate flag. Whether it be on a belt buckle, a bumper sticker, or off of I-75, the Confederate Flag is a common sight in the South.
Now don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty that I hold near and dear to my Southern heart that isn’t considered “politically correct.” Despite its founder’s views on marriage, I can’t go long without Chick-fil-A. I love my state song (and so does Fats Domino too by the way). And Elvis Presley’s “American Trilogy” has yet to leave me with a dry eye.
When the Confederate Flag finally came down in Columbia, South Carolina, pundits and politicians took to the airwaves. Angered Southerners took to social media. From all these parties, a common theme was heard: the P.C. police were at it again, Southern heritage was being sacrificed on the Alter of Political Correctness.
With this, I must strongly disagree. Calling for the removal of the Confederate Flag from government property and for individual citizens to make the choice not to fly it is not rooted in a quest for political correctness. At its worst, the Confederate Flag is a blatant symbol of racism, an ugly reminder of hate and bigotry. At its best, the flag is a symbol of a re-imagined Southern history, one constructed to deny the harsh realities of life in the Antebellum South.
A Blatant Symbol of Racism
In 1863, the national flag of the Confederate States of America was the Stars and Bars. Feeling this too closely resembled the flag of the United States, the Confederate Congress adopted the Stainless Banner as the national flag. The Stainless Banner featured the Battle Flag (what we now know as the Confederate Flag) on a white background. One need look no further than the words of the Stainless Banner's designer, William Thompson, to see the inherent racism of the flag:
As a people we are fighting to maintain the heavenly ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause.
On April 28, 1863, an editorial in the Savannah Daily Morning News further outlined the racist motivations behind the flag’s design:
Such a flag would be a suitable emblem of our young Confederacy, and sustained by the brave hearts and strong arms of the South, it would soon take rank among the proudest ensigns of the nations, and be hailed by the civilized world as "THE WHITE MAN'S FLAG".
In addition to the blatant racist intent behind the Stainless Banner’s design, a design which prominently featured the Battle Flag, the fact remains that this flag was flown by those who were expressly fighting for the institution of slavery, a fact which speaks for itself.
A Dangerous Revisionist Interpretation of History
I often hear the argument that the Battle Flag no longer represents the racist agenda of the Confederacy. It’s a symbol of heritage, not hate. I find that this view of the flag may be the more dangerous. The Confederate Flag is certainly a symbol of Southern heritage. However, it’s a symbol of a heritage which never existed. Too often, the Southern heritage celebrated by the Confederate Flag is the one which maintains that the Civil War really was about states’ rights, not slavery. It’s the heritage which pines for “a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields.” It’s the rose-tinted heritage of “Gone with the Wind.” This Southern Revisionist heritage ignores the horrors of slavery. It forgets the social divide between the planter class and the tenant farmers. It romanticized a Lost Cause and became a powerful tool to justify Jim Crow policies. To fly the Confederate Flag as a symbol of heritage denies the South its true history. It allows us to comfortably forget a past that we must never forget.
Not a Concession to Political Correctness
Even in the face of these arguments, proponents of the Confederate Flag refute them and claim it is their Constitutional prerogative to fly the flag. They maintain that to not fly the Confederate Flag would be giving into political correctness, something for which they would never sacrifice their First Amendment Rights.
To this I say “No.”
No, even after putting aside the aforementioned arguments as to why the Confederate Flag should not be flown, choosing not to fly it is not a submission to political correctness. Removing the Confederate Flag from government property is not a surrender to the P.C. police.
It is an act of compassion.
According to a CNN/ORC poll, 72% of African Americans, a significant portion of the American population, view the Confederate Flag as a symbol of racism. When someone choose not to fly the Confederate Flag, they are recognizing that for so many of their fellow human beings, it is a sign of hate. It is a symbol which inspires fear.
Choosing not to fly the Confederate Flag is an opportunity to live out Christ’s Golden Rule, “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them: for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12) It is recognizing the pain the Confederate Flag causes others, realizing this is a pain you would never want to endure, and choosing not to inflict it. It’s looking at your fellow Americans and seeing them as your brothers and sisters. In this sense, it is an act of deep Faith, part of a religious tradition that is very Southern indeed.
I was born in the South. I fully plan on moving back to the South. And God willingly, I’ll die in the South. The South is in my bones and it’s in my heart and I don’t need to fly any flag to prove that.
And I’m not just whistling Dixie.