Sunday, July 26, 2015

Confederate Flag: No Big Deal?

Something which unites some people on the hard right and on the hard left or nationalist black left is the desire to sneer at the removal of the Confederate Flag from such official public spaces such as the Columbia South Carolina Statehouse or from Texas state license plates. The usual line of "reasoning" on the right will claim that because removal of the Confederate Flag will not stop the horror of "black-on-black" crime or any other pathology which apparently only affects black people it is therefore a waste of time and (this part is important because it dovetails nicely with what many right-wingers think of black people anyway) STUPID for black people to spend any time or energy trying to get the flag removed from public spaces. After this seeming axiom is pointed out the right-winger will usually try to convince you that the Confederate Flag has nothing at all to do with white supremacy or slavery and for that matter neither did the Civil War and anyone who thinks otherwise is the real racist, not them. I think the people who try to argue this are either mentally slow or think that you are. On the left of course there are people who understand the symbolism of the Confederate Flag and do not initially seek to claim that it has no meaning of hatred or a very specific and ugly type of white identity politics. Nonetheless they usually wind up claiming that the flag is harmless and/or needs to be understood with some sort of nuance . Another form of left-winger, disproportionately found in academia or other bastions of so-called radical thought, will claim that the US flag is the flag that black people really need to reject. And then of course there is the "more radical than thou" type who is thoroughly convinced that unless and until we can undo, eliminate and repair each and every incarnation of racism, capitalism, sexism, patriarchy, homophobia, speciesism, transphobia, fat shaming, xenophobia, whiteness, nationalism, and any other "ism" you can think of going back to 1492 or before, then your protesting the Confederate Flag or being happy that there is a growing clamor to remove it from public spaces is just evidence that you're a brainwashed sap who's too quick to go for the okey-doke. 

From this point of view you're watching people take flags down and thinking you did something while the power structure remains unchanged. Man you're stupid. Much like some of their counterparts on the far right, some people of the left really do enjoy believing that they're much smarter and thus more moral than the average putz on the street. This is not a political failing. It's a human one. Both of these critiques of people who are trying to remove Confederate Flags from public spaces miss the point. Each "argument" creates a straw man which is then thoroughly beaten. It's quite simple. The Confederate Flag is a symbolic "f*** you" to Black people. There are perhaps other meanings arguably but everyone knows, whether they want to admit or not, what the primary, secondary and tertiary meanings are. People don't like it when you insult them to their face, particularly when they're paying for the "honor". And by the way, the Confederates lost. Although many apparently disagree, I think it was a good thing that they lost. So the flag of the losers has no business being on the public space of the winners. If you want to wear your Confederate Flag belt buckle, wave it at your concerts, tie it to your pickup truck, knock yourself out. But it shouldn't be officially installed on state or federal property. And to those who argue that the US flag is the one we need to reject, the difference is that for all the evil that's been done and blood that's been shed in its name the US flag has the promise and possibility of inclusion and fair play. The Confederate Battle Flag does not and never did. The Confederate Flag is forever fixed in its meaning. Black people in the 1860s were not at all conflicted about which flag offered a better opportunity for advancement and recognition of their humanity. It is, public protestations to the contrary aside, possible for people to walk and chew gum at the same time. You can work to stop inner city violence, lower infant mortality rates, create better food and exercise options, stop police brutality, feed the hungry, assist the homeless or impoverished, prevent redlining, interrupt the flow of black people into prison, and STILL think that the Confederate Flag should come down from public display. 
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