Written for Facebook:
Part 1: Introduction:
Other than some things I've written in a few Facebook groups, I've tried to stay away from this whole Confederate flag donnybrook that plays itself out in my feed every day lately. It's one of those issues that, over the decades, has proven remarkably impervious to facts or to reason and in the past, there just hasn't seemed much point in engaging with it.
The other side of the coin, however, is that the current controversy offers an opportunity to have a conversation about the subject that, for decades upon decades, has badly needed to happen but has never been allowed to get off the ground. One of the things that comes through my feed on a regular basis is a endless plethora of memes featuring a Confederate flag and the words, "If this flag offends you, you need a history lesson." And, of course, those memes are inevitably circulated by people who prove worst in need of such a lesson. I have a sweet tooth for such things. Maybe that much-needed conversation won't happen this time, but maybe it will.
What has people dissing the Confederate flag at the moment is Dylann Roof, a right-wing terrorist who walked into a church in South Carolina and started shooting because he wanted to kill black people. In pics, Roof is seen waving the Confederate flag, which seems to have set off a sort of national gag reflex. We speak of the object as a "Confederate flag" and its roots do stretch back to the Civil War but that association, which I'll also cover, is distant in time, the stuff of museums. What is this flag today? For over 60 years, it's been one of the most prominent emblems of segregation, racial hatred, white nationalism. It was adopted as the flag of Strom Thurmond's "Dixiecrats," the then-Southern-based right-wing of the Democratic party that, in the 1940s, split with the national party over race and ran a campaign of "Segregation Forever." In the '50s and '60s, it was thrown up all over the deep South to express resistance to civil rights. It was and, indeed, still is ubiquitously flown by the Ku Klux Klan and other like-minded orgs. The amount of reactionary terrorism carried out by wavers of this flag alone is staggering. This is the flag's modern context. And like it or not, this is what it represents today.
I'll confess to being somewhat puzzled by the anti-flag reaction in the wake of Roof. This matter has been a festering wound on the soul of the U.S. for all this time--why start getting outraged now? Something about the Roof killings seems to have gotten to people in a way the rest hasn't. It may just be a matter of exposure. Those in the corporate press don't exactly trip over one another to cover the activities of groups like the KKK these days. Terrorism by domestic white Christian rightists in the U.S. is virtually invisible in the national corporate press. It is, in fact, a far worse problem than terrorism by Muslim rightists but our news mavens' general rule is that if it doesn't praise Allah, it isn't worth the time of day. It isn't something people see, and out of sight probably equals out of mind. For some reason, the Roof story drew national attention rather than, as is usually the case, being relegated to the level of a local crime story. When people finally saw it, they were disgusted by it.
They should be.
But if all that comes of the current uproar is finally consigning this hateful rag to a museum, an opportunity to address some much deeper wounds will have been squandered. Those people who wave this flag while saying others need a history lesson need to finally get a history lesson of their own.