July 2015

Let it fly no more

By Katharhynn Heidelberg

Just stop it.

Stop defending the state-sanctioned display of the “Confederate” flag on public buildings/grounds where the public’s business is conducted and where the public’s representatives meet.

Note that I said “state-sanctioned” and “public buildings.” I couldn’t care less if individuals want to display the flag in their yard, on their vehicle, or on their apparel. They’ve the right. And I have the right to make certain assumptions about them as a result. You might guess that these are not flattering assumptions, just as I might guess their opinion of me. I don’t care about that, either.

But the “Confederate” flag in modern-day America represents the legacy of racism and unjustified revolt, and its continued display shocks the conscience.

It was an outrage before a disaffected domestic terrorist — who allegedly stated that he wanted to start a race war — slaughtered nine innocent black worshippers in their church in June; it remains outrageous now.

The mass murder at a Charleston, S.C. church sparked much day-after agonizing about guns, race, and some media’s contortions to avoid substantively discussing either issue. It also led some survivors to forgive the alleged shooter, Dylann Roof, which gives hope for the human spirit.

The terrorism in Charleston has also brought the “Confederate” flag back into public discussion, with some calling for South Carolina to remove it from official locations. To his great credit, Mitt Romney is among those calling for the flag’s removal. Presidential hopeful Lindsey Graham has at least acknowledged it is a debate worth having.

Separately, and before the massacre, Conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas sided with the majority in Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of the Confederate Veterans, Inc. The gist of the ruling: Texas may refuse to issue a specialty license plate bearing an image of the Confederate flag.

Thomas is an African American, but his tenure on the bench is replete with rulings that have favored institutional racism; it cannot be argued that he ruled against the Sons of the Confederacy because of his own skin color. Instead, I take the ruling to mean that no state is required to be involved in producing a racist image on official objects, irrespective of whether the petitioners themselves view the image as racist.

Now, no credible argument is being made blaming the flag itself for Roof ’s alleged actions. Rather, the argument (I would say fact) is that the flag represents a heritage of racism that Roof embraced. Pictures purporting to be of Roof show him holding the Confederate flag and wearing pro- Apartheid patches on his clothing. Another shows him burning the U.S. flag. And there are his alleged statements about race war, and the absurdly medieval declaration that “you” (black people) “rape women,” “are taking over our country,” and so, must go.

Flag defenders would argue Roof misappropriated the symbol. My argument is the symbol is one of racism, as well as treason. It is the height of irony that some people who fly that flag would consider themselves, not just “good” Americans, but “the real” Americans.

Objections to my view are myriad. But they are not persuasive. • “It’s not the Confederate flag!”

It is true the Confederacy had several iterations of the flag and that one was a “battle flag.” But this makes no meaningful difference today. Further, the flag was used to varying degrees by white supremacists before Dylann Root. To argue that the flag does not bear the taint of racism, and means nothing untoward, is simply incorrect.

This flag is not just one of many harmless symbols like those held dear by a host of groups and individuals. We’re not talking about the Easter Bunny. We’re not talking about anything that does not celebrate the systemic oppression of African Americans, which is precisely what the “Confederate” flag does. Apples and oranges do not lemonade make.

• “It doesn’t represent treason – the Southern states left the Union!”

Those states revolted, precipitating years of exceptionally bloody violence and devastation (which did occur on both sides). Those states were fighting for their “right” to own other human beings as goods, chattel, workhorses and brood mares. I don’t care what kind of gloss apologists would put on that, nope, not even …

• “The war was about economics!”

Just about any war is in part (or even wholly) driven by economics. An economy- driven desire for more land for Europe’s elite played its part in the Crusades — yet it would be absurd to insist that these were a series of “economic” wars, not religious ones. Further, upon what was Southern (and even Northern) economy at the time of the Civil War based? The backs of slaves and their free labor.

• “The flag represents pride/heritage/ respect for the soldiers who fought for it!”

First, pride in what? The wholesale subjugation of an entire race for white convenience? Um, that’s not a source of pride. It is one of shame.

What heritage? The South wasn’t fighting to hold a cotillion, or the right to bake pecan pie. While we should respect the humanity of everyone in that war (and acknowledge how horrifically Southern war prisoners were treated, as well as the North’s own racism, including Lincoln’s), we do not have to respect what Southern leaders were doing, or why they did it, because the “what” and the “why” are reprehensible.

It is entirely possible to be proud of the South’s many legitimate and ongoing achievements without celebrating this particular flag. Acknowledging what the flag is does not diminish the good things about the South; it just recognizes that it is time to separate the good from the bad and retire this terrible relic. Anyone who thinks he or she cannot celebrate that which is good and wholesome about the South without the Confederate flag should perhaps create a new banner, one that is free of any Confederate influence.

The faulty logic invoked in defending the Confederate flag as a symbol of respect for the South’s soldiers can be illustrated through the following hyperbole: “Berlin ought to fly a swastika for all those SS soldiers, because, hey — they were just people and fighting for their way of life! It’s just respect!”

No, I do not suggest that every “Confederate” flag aficionado is a Nazi, or that Germany ought to do anything of the kind. (Look up “hyperbole” if you’re confused on this point; it means exaggeration for effect.) But Nazi Germany was the 20th century’s most prominent and worst example of blatant racism; it preached “Aryan” supremacy, much as the American establishment preached white supremacy from the days of slavery, to Jim Crow and beyond. For achingly obvious reasons, Berlin will not fly a swastika and for equally obvious reasons, no state should fly the rebel flag.

Returning to Dylann Roof: I don’t know what it is that drives people of the privileged sex, the privileged race, in a privileged nation to feel so disenfranchised that they believe they have the right to harm others. But we’d best figure it out before more disaffected lunatics kill more innocent people. Part of that involves sending a clear message: racism, whether individual or institutional, is evil and its symbols are not worthy of defense.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is an award-winning career journalist in Montrose, Colo.