Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Swastika Southern Style

(Originally posted March 28, 2011)

(I have been seeing the odd posting or two about the Confederate Flag lately and it reminded me of this post I wrote earlier in the year...I reposted here and added it to the Archives. Join the debate, what are your thoughts?)

Imagine going to a fine German establishment and then just as you order your Sauerbraten and Hefeweizen beer you look up to see a huge flag hung proudly against the back wall displaying an ominous black Swastika on a field of red. You begin to protest but the proprietor and many of the very patrons get angry and offended! That is a symbol their heritage, how DARE you imply that it stands for hatred, intolerance, lunacy, and genocide.

Always looks better on a car.
Pretty crazy stuff and yet here in the United States that scenario is very likely to play out daily across many of our southern states, but instead of a Nazi flag it is the Confederate Battle Flag that is displayed. To a great many people that flag is a symbol every bit as detested as the Nazi Swastika. Indeed to them it stands for many of the same things; hatred and intolerance as well as ignorance, slavery, and terrorism. Given that the flag has been around for nearly 150 years and declared as its banner by many of the worst and most violent groups to have formed and terrorized this country in that time it is remarkable indeed that it is held as dear by a large portion of the Southern population. “It is a symbol of our heritage,” they say. It is even afforded the same formal protections extended to the national American flag in some states.

Those that support the flag and its display say that to them it has no political or racial implications and that it simply acts a symbol of a distinct southern heritage. This may be very true to them, but when hundreds of terror and white-supremacist organizations use the flag to spread hate and intolerance in the present and do so because of a long history of others doing the same for the length of the flag’s existence it is mighty hard to divorce these divisive elements from the symbolic banner. Can you base cultural identification on that?

That these elements exist promoted by the flag is not an opinion. It is fact. Now for an individual this may not be so, indeed for many individuals it may not be so, but we must remember a flag was never meant for an individual. A flag’s very existence is to unite a group of people under a common symbol. Over time that symbol may become charged with more or less meaning that intended originally, but that is a complex relationship between the people it unites, the events surrounding its creation and use, and also the reactions it elicits in others.

If a person chooses to view it simply as heritage they must understand all the negativity that is also tied to the flag and which outweighs by a great deal the heritage they wish to display. Within a closed community of like-minded individuals like say, Alabama, this is not an issue. However this is a country of fifty states and the actions of many people and organizations over decades does little to erase the hate and intolerance that this symbol has been known for. So much louder do those speak that oftentimes the “heritage” argument is but a whisper to the tornado of terror and hate.

That does not automatically mean one should abandon the use of their flag if indeed they see it as solely a proud piece of their heritage. Though many may view that with cynicism it must be understood that indeed this flag united a different culture and gave them an identity to rally around and call their own that in doing so differentiated them from their Northern neighbors and brothers. That slavery was an integral part of the economy of that culture and also was the impetus for the Civil War wherein the flag was born must also not be forgotten nor the terrorist organizations that maintain its use. It is a delicate act to balance between the two real and valid claims that opponents and supporters each proclaim.

I see only one way by which this symbol may be rehabilitated and also the reason why perhaps it will never come to pass. An organization that is an obvious beacon for good work and leads the struggle for civil rights and justice must carry it as its banner. Over time those that claim to view the flag as simply heritage must continue to do so. The racist undertones that the flag still carries must be banished and as they are banished should be replaced by good. In this way can the Confederate Battle Flag be rehabilitated I think.

Better to put it this way…the Confederate Battle Flag had a twin birth, one a symbol of identity and one of an unjust struggle full of hate and intolerance. To maintain the flag then this twin of hate must be forever killed and buried.

NOTE: The Swastika is an ancient symbol predating the Nazi party by thousands of years. That history behind the Nazi’s will I think in time (perhaps decades or centuries) prevail over the 20th century atrocities of Hitler and his war machine. The Confederate Flag has no such history behind it and thus it is perhaps better to come up with a new symbol of the South that unites all of its people and not just the white once-majority. It may take much less time than rehabilitation and unlike rehabilitation actually may be possible.

Before Hitler ruined it. The swasktika, not Coca-Cola.

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