Everyone appears to be engaged in a competitive round of shortsightedness and lack of empathy regarding the Confederate battle flag, and it strangely doesn’t seem to be subsiding despite the constant stream of new things to be pissed about. It started with the tragic and horrifying murders committed by Dylan Roof in a South Carolina church. From there it went from sensible to obnoxious at roughly the speed of Twitter.
Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina made the smart and risky maneuver of unilaterally declaring that State offices would no longer fly the flag. And that would be a great example for the rest of us on how to handle the situation, except we sort of took the reasonable ball and ran it all the way to Crazytown.
The first signpost en route to Nutsville? Apple announced they would remove the offensive image in question from all games sold in their app store. What kind of games have the Confederate battle flag in them, you might rightly ask yourself? Civil War games, of course. In an effort to protect each other from seeing things that make us feel bad, we’re going to go ahead and scrub the Confederate imagery from things that are attempting to portray the very conflict which birthed it. Is that unquestionably moronic? Yes, it really is. Are they going to do the same for the swastika from the roughly million games that portray World War II? Of course not. Does that make any sense at all? No, of course not. But common sense and logic are not the endgame here. Being on the “right side of history” is.
Which raises another interesting point you may have seen flying around on Facebook. Is the Confederate battle flag the same as the swastika? No, of course it’s not. I know how easy this particular parallel is, and how hard it can be to resist. But the difference is actually pretty simple and obvious. The truth is that everything in this world is not the same as something else, no matter how smart a comparison can be made in meme form.
The Nazi flag is not a symbol of anything else to Germans other than the Third Reich and its dreams of world domination. There isn’t a large swathe of Germans (Jews, Catholics, and homosexuals among them) who see some value and interest in the symbol and flag. Confederate symbols, on the other hand, just legitimately do mean more to people than a defense of slavery. Now I should take this opportunity to point out: not to me. I can’t stress this point strongly enough, that I have no love in my heart for the Confederacy or any of their symbols. I would never in a million years wear or wave anything that could give that impression, because to me, they are symbols of divisiveness and persecution.
But I don’t get to make calls for everyone else. And whether I like it or not (and believe me, I don’t), there are many Americans, primarily Southerners, including many African Americans, primarily Ludacris, who do see some value in the Confederate flag, or even more, personally love and identify with the symbol.
I’m not here to pass judgment on their values, I’m simply advocating they be free to express them.
Speaking of flags that are symbols of oppression and genocide, perhaps you’ve heard of Old Glory? Because if you’re a person of indigenous heritage, one could make a very good case that the American flag is just as offensive to you as the Confederate flag is to most of us. But obviously it’s not that simple.
And while we’re catch-all-ing the reasons why people need to relax a bit, here’s another phrase I could do without hearing in the framework of this debate: traitor. There’s a lot of people out there tossing around this word with a lot of comfort as if it’s not an incredibly serious charge. The attempt of the Southern states to secede is indeed a serious and some might say “traitorous” move to make. The flying of a symbol that memorializes that is not and could never be traitorous or treasonous, and people suggesting these terms need to understand better what they mean.
In short, we all need to empathize more with each other. If you’re flying the Confederate flag outside your house, maybe consider how scarred the nation still is from the horrible practice of slavery and the fight to end it. Maybe think about how your brothers and sisters in the African American community particularly might feel. Conversely, if you’re in the middle of posting on Facebook how rednecks are like Nazis and we need to have laws against speech and imagery like this, maybe consider how awesome this country is particularly because of our freedom to do offensive things and not be scared to hang an image outside your window. Maybe take a minute to think about whether you are really offended by something, or if you just think you should be offended by it and are acting out of a sense of noble attention seeking.
And maybe, just maybe, keep your damn hands off the General Lee. Because as disgusting as the symbol is to me personally, I can separate my Dukes from my hazards.
By Sidney Reilly