Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Confederate Battle Flag

I haven't watched the Dukes of Hazzard movie, and I might never, but it does bring up the Confederate Battle Flag (CBF). I grew up watching the Dukes, I was born in Texas and raised in Georgia. When I see the CBF, I think I first think of the Dukes, and then I probably think of the South. Racism never even occured to me. When I heard people pointing it out as a symbol of racism, I wondered what their reasoning was.

When the South seceded, from what little I know, it was about autonomy and taxes as well as slavery. When the South fought the North, I presume the CBF was used as a banner to rally under. As it was used then, and as I view it now, it was a cultural and nationalist symbol.

Since the South was necessarily fighting for slavery, and since, from what I read, groups like the KKK and neo-Nazis use the CBF to further their causes, it's really kind of difficult to defend it as a non-racist symbol. Nevertheless, I still think of it culturally.

But as food for thought, what about the swastika? That quite clearly is a symbol of the Nazis, but what about the swastika as used by Buddhists? (and what about the cross as used by the KKK?)

In the end, symbolism is powerful, but another labeling tool. Unsurprisingly enough, what that symbol represents, and the people who use that symbol, must be taken on a group by group, individual by individual basis. Damning the CBF because of racists seems to be categorical-thinking and closed-minded. Racism is bad, no doubt, but taking away a flag to fight racism sounds about as smart as burning books or censorship.


Tim U said...

A swastika was used as insignia for an American infantry division for about fifteen years starting in the 20's. It was used as recognition of the number of American Indians in its ranks. The symbolism was that of life and good luck. However, it was removed after the Nazi's rise to power changed the symbolism to that of hate. I believe the meanings are differentiated by the orientation of the swastika now. Clockwise is "evil" while counter-clockwise is "good".

Gabe said...

Ah, good to know. I'm sure the Nazis didn't orient/reorient it to differentiate themselves as evil tho ;)

Gabe said...

Wikipedia, I don't think, said anything about what way the swastika facing meaning what. Apparently both the Buddhist and Nazi swastikas face the same direction.

Tim U said...

My understanding was that people are trying to change the swastika back to the old symbolism by using the mirror image. If the mirror image is the antithesis, then evil becomes good, right?

A very informative page can be found at

Gabe said...

Hrm, looking at that site, it appears that the mirror (whichever way) being evil is unsupported or not well documented? That site also says that both ways are good, although what it means, either way, depends on which culture/religion.

ANYWAY, the point was that one shouldn't fight symbols, but what you think the symbol represents.

Wikipedia also said there were efforts by Westerners to combat what the swastika has come to be viewed as.

Deals On Wheels said...

I'm from Texas and I've heard the argument over and over about people who display the Confederate Battle Flag (CBF) because it symbolizes their heritage as a “Southerner”.

Personally, I’m against “proudly” waving the CBF – heritage or not. This is because the CBF does offend people (like it or not), and I don’t want people to misinterpret what I really mean.

Now, I’m not saying that everyone should tip toe around everyone else, because being all “super PC” isn’t solving any problems either. But it is interesting to me that everyone can (generally) get behind the Nazi flag being offensive and wrong, but that the CBF flag is still somehow being debated (state flags in places like Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia, for example).

Quite frankly, if you proudly want to display your “Southern Heritage” then why would you choose to do it with the CBF anyway? Why not use the Confederate (country’s) Flag? It is very similar to the U.S. flag, but has fewer stars (one for each state that seceded from the Union). Most people, at least in my experience, do not even know about this flag, which is strange because (if you’re all about the CBF because of “heritage and not hate”) than this is the flag that represents ONLY the “heritage” aspect that you are going for (i.e. state rights, nationalism, etc.).

I’m not saying that people should be censored and not allowed to fly whatever flag for whatever purpose (that would be a violation of free speech, after all). But flags are symbols. Unfortunately, CBF is aligned with the institution of slavery, Jim Crow, unequal rights, the KKK, etc. It represents more than a battle cry. It represents an institution of hate and racism – even if that is not what you mean for it to represent. When you proudly wave it – it is sending a message to people and – unfortunately – that message has very little to do with “heritage” and a whole lot to do with “hate”.

It is a symbol that has its roots deeply imbedded in human emotion (especially in this country). People – despite the fact that 140 years have past – still feel very strongly about this symbol and what it represents. I’m not saying that this is “right” or “wrong” (feelings never are one or the other), but I do think that people feeling this way is a “reality” and that we need to keep talking about it if it is ever going to change (or “heal” as the case may be).

I’m all for changing the meaning of the CBF. I think that it should be looked at as symbol of our nation’s history. I think it should be a symbol of our nation’s heritage (and not of hate). But I don’t think we are there yet (just like the many people aren’t there with the Nazi flag, either).

Anyway, those are just my thoughts. “Snaps” again on another interesting topic.

Gabe said...

Thanks Deals :)

I don't think I've ever felt inclined to display a CBF. If I did, it'd probably because I somehow came into possession of a Dodge Charger (of the appropriate year, which escapes me).

As for why the CBF as opposed to the Conferederate flag... I wouldn't know, but if I were to guess, it'd probably be because of the fight rather than the nation. All this time, all these generations, I'd bet it's the opposition that people remember, not why or what they/we were opposing. For the ignorant people anyway. Like a nationalized version of the Hatfield and the McCoys.

Which is why I further emphasize the importance of fighting what the symbol represents rather than the symbol itself.

Everytime a pro- and anti-flag person lockhorns over the flag itself, it'd be so much better if they just sat down and discussed what it was about the flag they liked and disliked. I'd be willing to bet, for example, that if a black person with slaves as ancestors went up to a white person that waved around a CBF and asked why, a lot more would get accomplished, and there'd be much greater understanding and acceptance on both sides.

That is assuming, of course, that racism and bigotry weren't the reasons for flying the CBF.

As an impetus for discussion, it may be even more important for the CBF to be displayed. As a symbol for (confirmed) racists, I say it makes a great target ;)

Roshnii said...

I was interested to read your debate about the swastika. I have been involved in creating - a site dedicated to exploring the true meaning of the symbol and the significance of the clockwise/anti clockwise swastikas.

Take a look and see what you think.

Gabe said...

I posted a comment on your site, but I actually have something to add, stemming from that post, and also my original post.

Clearly, racism, rampant nationalism, anti-semitism, etc... are bad. Through education, hopefully through time, their related symbols will become quaint and archaic.

Clearly, when a person feels offended when they see a CBF or a swastikad, a piece of cloth and some coloring isn't what's offending them. It's the ideas behind them.