The Confederate Flag flap seems to be dying down a little, for the simple reason that it is very hard to sustain feelings of mindless outrage for more than two minutes at a time. Maybe, some day, Daisy Duke will grace television again.
Outrage is of course selective: the Dukes of Hazard are banned from television for decorating the General Lee with the Battle Flag, while the America’s oldest and most successful racist institution is left unmolested.
Just yesterday an outspoken supporter of the Rebel Flag, Anthony Harvey, activist and author, was killed in a car accident. He had been returning home from a pro-flag rally in Birmingham.
Here is a photo of Anthony Harvey:
In Oklahoma the press was hyperventilating because people were flying the Battle Flag outside of a hotel where President Obama was staying. It was almost a big story… until the press realized the rally was organised by Andrew Duncomb.
Joan Walsh over at Salon busts a gasket over Mr Duncomb, because the Confederate flag is racist, racist, racist. She goes on to say that America is becoming more racist (you know, after having elected Obama) in both the North and the South.
Duncomb says “They are blaming the racist problems on the flag, and not on the real problems of America”. Which of course is true: the flag hurts no one, does not mean what it used to mean, and the current hysteria is at best a case of moral preening and mindless tribalism, at worst an attempt to deflect attention from the real problems faced by American blacks: the Gordian Knot of bad schools, illegitimacy, high crime and unemployment in certain urban areas.
But Ms Walsh does not acknowledge his intelligent comment, she just wants to call him names because a black man in America can’t have an opinion without a smug, white liberal’s approval. Evil conservatives like me just shrug and say Duncomb is entitled to wave whatever flag he likes and not be lectured about it.
I do agree with Walsh however on this: racism is about the same in both North and South. I’ve said before that white Americans are the least racist people I’ve ever met: less racist than Asians, Latin Americans or Europeans, but that does not mean that there are no race issues.
Race relations vary in different parts of the country. The North, for all our self-righteous posturing and slavish adherence to the Democratic Party, is highly segregated by race. (Then again, the Democrats were the party of slavery and the KKK, so maybe it isn’t surprising.) Los Angles, California, is the most openly racist place I’ve ever been: the level of segregation and mutual mistrust between blacks, whites, Mexicans and Asians is palpable. The South is actually less segregated than the North, schools and cities more mixed, and blacks are moving back in record numbers.
In my visits to the South, I quickly realized that Southern blacks are very Southern in speech, tastes, manners, and conservative outlook. Southern blacks I’ve known who have recently moved North for work are often homesick. Many move back home because they don’t fit in among either us cold white Yankees or among Northern blacks, and because they have more economic mobility in the growing Southern economies. So why should it be surprising that some Southern blacks embrace a symbol of the South, especially one that has largely been stripped of its racist overtones?
Some people claim that symbols can’t change meaning, which of course is silly. The Swastika was once a symbol of peace and well-being; now, in the Western world, it means something else. The cross was once a symbol of the Roman Empire’s ability to torture, humiliate and kill; it now means something else.
A symbol can mean different things to different people: to some, the hammer and sickle represents the Utopian goal towards which human history is heading, to me it means millions of people murdered: I still don’t want to see it banned, because I’m not a self-righteous bully.
The Battle Flag is the cross of St. Andrew who according to tradition was executed on an X-shaped cross. He became patron of Scotland, and the Scots decorated their flags with it. It was adopted by Confederate armies (many Confederate states had been settled by lowland Scots and Ulstermen) in their effort to secure (mostly) their slaves and (also) fight against a more centralized government.
Since the war it has been used to commemorate the valor of Confederate troops, represent a protest against Northern interference, and the Democratic party’s refusal to accept desegregation. In the last 50 years it has been a harmless symbol of Southern pride. Shouldn’t we celebrate that development and not condemn it?
History and culture are complicated things. Getting caught up in a moral panic over bits of colored cloth is simplistic and dumb.