Confederate flags, ‘forgiveness’ and the Dark Mark
Being the massive nerd I am, I re-listen to the Harry Potter audio books constantly, especially during long cycle rides. A passage in the Goblet of Fire was particularly apt to the current times, specifically during the Qudditch World Cup where the Dark Mark appeared in the sky and Ron is still trying to understand what it means:
“Look, can someone just explain what that skull thing was?” said Ron impatiently. “It wasn’t hurting anyone….Why’s it such a big deal?”
“I told you, it’s You-Know-Who’s symbol, Ron,” said Hermione, before anyone else could answer. “I read about it in The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts.”
“And it hasn’t been seen for thirteen years,” said Mr. Weasley quietly. “Of course people panicked…it was almost like seeing You-Know-Who back again.”
“I don’t get it,” said Ron, frowning. “I mean…it’s still only a shape in the sky…”
“Ron, You-Know-Who and his followers sent the Dark Mark into the air whenever they killed,” said Mr. Weasley. “The terror it inspired…you have no idea, you’re too young. Just picture coming home and finding the Dark Mark hovering over your house, and knowing what you’re about to find inside….” Mr. Weasley winced. “Everyone’s worst fear…the very worst…”
Ron would no doubt later come to understand what the Dark Mark meant and the context that his father had lived through. Which is why, if someone were to suggest that all it took to overcome anti-muggle attitudes in Harry Potter was to ‘forgive’ the Death Eaters… well, people would probably think that was ridiculous.
Yet, that’s exactly what’s happening now.
‘Forgiveness’ response to Trump bumper sticker
Recently, someone took a photo of a Trump bumper sticker which involved two stick figures, one kicking the other. The stick figure kicking encased a Confederate flag symbol and the one being kicked encased a rainbow symbol. Below it read ‘Trump 2016’.
Clearly, the message being sent through the sticker is heterosexist and white supremacist, especially given the use of the Confederate flag and serves as a stark reminder that heterosexism/cissexism and white supremacy often combine themselves.
However, in response to this a graphic has surfaced this time depicting a rainbow stick figure hugging a confederate flag figure titled ‘Forgiveness 2016’ and has been shared across social media sites widely. Whether this was made by an individual within the LGBTQ community, I’m not quite sure. But the implicit tone of this image is one I’ve heard before. Taking the high road.
I can’t quite decide what’s more laughable about this image: the idea that the LGBTQ community has the power to ‘forgive’ a symbol of white supremacy or that the LGBTQ community ought to react to outright violence and bashing with hugs — as if such a thing would actually work.
To bring this back to the Harry Potter example that I was reminded of this morning, the idea of ‘forgiving’ the Death Eaters is neither here nor there. That’s because the insidious thing about the Death Eaters and the way Voldemort liked to play the game wasn’t just that they hated muggles, but also that they were inevitably helped by individuals who did turn the other cheek and try to ignore their behaviour. One could argue that Cornelius Fudge, by his outright refusal to believe that Voldemort returned and insistence upon keeping the peace, did far more to help Voldemort advance in power than any of his major supporters ever did.
And in many ways this is the way that white supremacy continues to thrive. Not just upon the actions of Confederate flag bearing racists who willingly kick anyone who doesn’t agree with them, but upon the individuals who refuse to allow people to fight back — upon people who value the silence that a fake ‘peace’ can bring over justice.
Unsurprisingly, the surfacing of this image as reignited a debate about what the Confederate flag represents and this is why Arthur Weasley’s words stuck out to me this morning. Ron sees the Dark Mark merely as a symbol and doesn’t understand the historical context that the Dark Mark meant.
While Ron is actually ignorant of even what the Dark Mark means, I refuse to give fellow Southerners that same license. True, education in the South from my experience growing up there is spotty and while there may be a select few introduced to the Confederate flag without really understanding the consequence, now is the time to learn and get wiser.
Because, like the Dark Mark, the Confederate Flag was used for intimidation more than pride. If one wanted to be proud of the actual Confederacy, what is now colloquially known as ‘the Confederate Flag’ is not the actual national flag of the Confederacy. It is the battle flag which represented the South in the Civil War. Using it as a symbol of Southern Pride is misguided factually for a start.
Confederate flags and anti-Blackness
But more importantly, the symbol is used to intimidate others. It is used to represent racism, white supremacy, and a hatred not only, as the Trump bumper sticker plainly illustrates, for people of colour, but for a lot of other people included among those white pride organisations typically target.
But primarily we must not forget that it is a symbol of anti-Blackness first and foremost. And regardless of whether one wants to ‘forgive’ anti-LGBT bashing, the consideration of Black individuals must be taken into account.
Why? Because LGBT people of colour are twice as likely to be physically attacked and 70% of anti-LGBT murder victims are people of colour. Because most of the trans people murdered every year are almost all people of color.
Meanwhile, the major shifts and protests which brought LGBTQ rights to the forefront were largely fought by Black folks and other people of colour. The Stonewall Riots were 70% people of colour and the Black Panthers were among the first groups to help the protesters. Other riots such as Compton’s Cafeteria Riots and Cooper’s Donuts were places where LGBTQ POCs and others fought back against police brutality — something which largely targeted LGBTQ POCs, and set the stage for further protests and uprisings.
To ignore the context of the Confederate flag and the current status not just on victims of LGBTQ crime but also how it disproportionately affects Black folks and other POCs as well as the important contributions that Black and other QTIPOC have made toward advancing LGBTQ rights is, as Monica Roberts, in her blog Trans Griot, describes it: an intersectionality fail.
The insidious nature of white supremacy
Even as I compare the Dark Mark to the Confederate flag in an attempt to hopefully convey how a symbol is more than just a symbol when used to intimidate others, white supremacy is even more insidious and disasterous that the anti-muggle hatred displayed in Harry Potter. White supremacy isn’t just about a kick to the chest, it’s a system of power that disenfranchises. Imagine the Death Eaters *founding* the Ministry of Magic, not just infiltrating it.
I’m not sure who made the ‘Forgiveness 2016’ image. But I know that I am tired of being held to a higher expectation to turn the other cheek than my white supremacist relatives. And I am tired of Black LGBTQ people and other QTIPOC being expected to ignore the fact that they alone are responsible for some of the biggest shifts in history towards LGBTQ rights while taking something like being kicked by a Confederate flag in stride.
Responding to violent bigotry with ‘forgiveness’ will work no more effectively than trying to bond with Lord Voldemort.
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