The Black Country Flag: What happened to nuanced discussion (answer: the Facebook comments section)

So a new Labour MP (who is also Black), has suggested the Black Country flag is racist. Much to the behest of hard working folk across the region. Predictably, the ensuing debate on the issue would make Socrates and his pals in the Agora of old get their toga’s in a twist. So what’s all the fuss, and is there any semblance of reason on either side?

Firstly, a 13-year-old girl designed this flag, so I think any oversights in terms of symbolism are benign. However, that’s not to say any perceived symbols are wrong. Perception is subjective. Ms. Smith as a Woman of Colour, is more aware of the Chain/Slavery symbolism. Therefore, it is legitimate to see chains and think of the oppressive bondage of this most horrible crime. Ms Smith suggests ‘racist connotations’, and she is right to say so, as the link between chain and slavery is very clear. It is important fellow Black Country people respect her opinion, whilst they may disagree, as Britain is not a monoculture. To the residents of this fine area. The flag represents strength, unity, the (literal) community links, and our industrial heritage. It’s an excellent design, and in terms of localism and devolution of power, it is a symbol of hope. The Black Country has been left to rot by successive governments since the 80’s, so a symbol of hope is a useful tool in the generation of community spirit, particularly in an area with famously low voter engagement and turnout (10.4% for the Police and Crime Commissioner). Therefore, any suggestion to change this flag, however well meaning, is rather far fetched.

Where Ms Smith must recognise her failing is in recognising in what capacity she said this, as an Individual, or as an elected representative of her constituents. If it is the former, she should have kept these views private (I struggle to believe she is naïve enough to have not anticipated this), if the latter, then she has made a grave mistake, and should apologise to her constituents.

It is not just the intricacies of the debate that have moved me to write this, it is the social media reaction. It is important that a society that in any way wants to uphold values of tolerance and respect, complex opinions require complex discussion. Unfortunately, social media isn’t famed for its nuance, and the comments under the several articles on this furore, are a total shambles. Devoid of any empathy or suggestions that the authors even attempted to gain a mutual understanding of the issue, just comment after comment of false equivalencies, deflection, virtue signalling, and general ignorance. Whilst social media is a great tool to share opinion, it would appear to be a prime example of opinions being shouted into the ether, nothing that resembles ‘sharing’ is happening in these comments threads, only juvenile one-upmanship, with the rare more complex and balanced comment falling victim to the ‘like’ mob.

The response to #flaggate (sorry) has been largely informed by the question “Is it racist or not”, this binary choice negates any opportunity for anything else. Much like the debate around leave and remain. In truth, the flag is racist, and it is also not racist, (I myself have thought that the black and red has fascist connotations, but I negate that as in context it makes sense), each of us sees that flag differently, but what I see, what Ms Smith sees, and what people all over the Black Country is pride, and if this is an opportunity to discuss our industrial past, and approach these taboo subjects, then that can only be a good thing.

Britain is nothing without its tolerance, liberalism, and multiplicity; and it is a shame to see such debate in 2017. However, I can only hope enough of us share a similar viewpoint, and the will to challenge those who refuse to even engage in empathetic dialogue, will slowly change things for the better.