By Bill Fletcher, Jr., NNPA Columnist
The other night I listened to a South Carolina state legislator announce his support for pulling down the Confederate battle flag (of the Army of Northern Virginia) from the South Carolina statehouse. In the course of his quite interesting comments, he argued that the Confederate flag had been misappropriated by hate-groups. MSNBC talk-show host Chris Hayes politely asked him how it was possible to misappropriate a symbol that was born in hate. The South Carolina legislator chose that moment to do a tap dance.
There has been a good deal of discussion of the Confederate flag, discussion that has been reaching a badly needed crescendo. The public is getting a better understanding of the history of the flag and some history of the Confederate States of America. Yet, there is one thing that has avoided any discussion. The Confederate flag is the flag of traitors. The Confederate States of America was formed in open opposition to the Constitution of the United States. It was treason. Nevertheless, there are white people around the U.S. who seem to see no contradiction between flying both the flag of the U.S.A. and the C.S.A. How can we understand this?
It seems to me that there are two main answers. First, that the reemergence of the Confederate battle flags (it is, actually plural) starts in the 1940s with the rise of the Dixiecrat revolt against a civil rights platform in the Democratic Party. The use of the flag spread in subsequent years as a symbol of open and audacious resistance to the Black freedom movement and the pressure that it brought on the U.S. government to enact legislation against Jim Crow segregation and voter disenfranchisement.
The second answer is that for many of these white people, the flag of the Confederate States of America is the flag of the essence of the United States of America. In other words, the CSA is seen as representing the core of what the so-called Founding Fathers wanted in North America and, as such, it was not that the CSA left the USA, but the non-slave states departed from the core mission of the Republic. For this element of white America, the Confederate flag symbolizes the “America” of the slave-holding presidents; the “America” of the genocidal wars against Native Americans; the “America” of unlimited possibilities for whites. In other words, it represents what we, in Black America, understand to be the underside of the so-called “American Dream.”
Those who fly both flags do not see the flag of the CSA as a flag of treason but instead a flag of authenticity and essence. Thus, irrespective of the correct and well-intentioned comments about the Confederate flag being a flag of traitors or a flag of hate, the reality is that it is flown not to represent Southern pride but as a reaffirmation of the essence of white supremacy. It is, in other words, no different than the swastika.
Let’s stop beating around the bushes.