Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Internet Jackass Theatre

Over at Civil War Memory, Kevin draws our attention to a "Big Ass Confederate Flag" being erected on the side of a highway in Florida. Quite rightly, he points out that a group like the SCV, which purports to be educational and celebratory, could probably spend their money on better projects than the erection of a gigantic middle finger along the side of the road.

Lest we harbor any illusions about who supports this project, allow me to present a few of the comments from the St. Petersburg Times website:

I fully support the display of any Confederate Flag as a reminder of the Yankee armies invading the Southern people's homeland. The states had every right to seceed from the union. Lincoln's greatest concern was collecting his "cotton tax".
- "West"

Gorgeous. I can't wait to see it ! Why is this whole slavery crap revisionist stuff always trotted out when this topic comes up. This flag is about MY Southern heritage. My blood. Too many are brainwashed or gutless to challenge this indoctrination.
- "John-Kiwi"

The confederate stands for a southern uprising against the tyrannist north of the time. The North tried to control the southern states and tell them where and to whom they could sell their export. Race only entered when the north was losing.
- "Jared"

God bless the boys in gray! It's shameful that everyone in America is allowed to be proud of thier heritage except for those of us who are decended from the valiant Confederate soldiers. The NAACP has made the confederate flag "racial". Deo Vindice!
- "Jesse"

To be fair, plenty of people commented and called these jerks out.

It is important to read these comments because, for many people, it is easy to fall into the trap of believing that those who want to fly the Confederate flag* are really only interested in honoring their ancestors. The whole "Heritage, Not Hate" campaign is carefully calculated to make the public display of this hateful symbol palatable. Even I fell for it — when I was a freshman in high school, I wrote a 25-page paper for my Civics class about how the administration shouldn't have suspended a kid for wearing a Stars and Bars t-shirt.

While individual people may indeed be well-meaning, the display of the Confederate flag* is an intrinsically political act — and its politics are racist, segregationist, and retrograde. This flag has been a familiar symbol since the time of the war, but it was only during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s that it began to be displayed in such a prominent, public, "f-you" sort of way.

We should read comments like those on the St. Petersburg Times' website to remind ourselves that this type of racism is alive and well in America. Remember it any time CNN or your local newspaper expresses shock at racism in the current presidential campaign or uses words like "resurface" or "reemerge" or the odious "postracial" that imply that racism died out at some time.

Of course, racism exists in many forms, of which the dumbass, slavery-denying variety is merely the most quotable. Racism, like sexism, is part of our daily lives in America, and any impression that easily-recognizable flare-ups are some sort of aberration results from a privileged ability to deny quotidian examples (see Melissa McEwan for more — she says it better than I can).

Being reflective about my own privilege and trying to recognize how it works in my life are constant projects for me, as they are for many (but not enough) people. I don't think that "West" and "John-Kiwi" really overburden themselves with similar concerns. Is there a way to clue them in? I don't know. Any discussion of privilege, even if you're only talking to yourself, is intensely uncomfortable, and I'm not sure how to reach across the aisle without seeming like an enemy.

*The "Confederate flag," is, of course, the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, not the Confederate national flag. Why isn't the SCV erecting one of the many versions of the latter? I think it's because they secretly hate the Army of the Tennessee.
I once saw a Confederate reenactor proudly flying what he thought was the First National Flag of the CSA from his truckbed at an event in Virginia. It was actually the Puerto Rican flag. I didn't tell him.

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