Confederate Flag as Conceit, not Hatred

In the United States a definitive symbol of our history of racial tyranny is the Confederate flag. Other than the white robes of the Klu Klux Klan, few other symbols of U.S. culture evoke the same depth of visceral response. Apropos both the robes and the Confederate flag should both share the same regional ancestry, i.e. Tennessee.

Personally, I have the same distaste for the Confederate flag as I have for the Nazi swatika. Both symbols have their places in history in each of their respective countries, though Nazism has spread its poisonous tentacles throughout more societies than the Confederacy could claim.

A group in my current state of residence has obtained a small parcel of land near Interstate I-24, has erected a 60ft (20m) flagpole, and is now flying a large 12ft (4m) x 18ft (6m) Confederate flag over the city of Paducah, Kentucky (photo) and in full view of all travelers of Interstate 24. The photo does not do the flag justice. Had I not been perturbed upon seeing the flag I might have pulled over to snap a photo. I still might go back and capture one.

I don’t  like emotions getting the better of me. Seeing the flag upset me, true, but I consider myself an academic and as such cannot really allow the anathema I feel towards the flag to cloud my ability to contemplate the history and geography of the American South.

I’m not going to turn my post into a history lesson. Too many Civil War sites exist for people to peruse at their leisure for me to even attempt a summary here. My intent is only to draw out some historical and geographical details.

The Civil War began April 12, 1861. After fives days, 11 states had formed an alliance against the Union. Representing the Confederacy were 9 million people, almost half of which were slaves. Texas would join against the Union, an action which bewilders me at times. Only 15 years earlier, the Republic of Texas had voted for annexation  essentially to stave off continual Mexican militancy. Then, on April 17, 1861, only a teenager, Texas declares war on the United States. Kids rebelling against their parents.

On the other side, the Union would eventually comprise 21 states and over 20 million people. The Union also had the bulk of the transportation infrastructure, railroads and canals, the vast majority of the wealth, the educated, and the manufacturing centers.

In geography, we talk about regions. In particular, we discuss perceptual regions. Perceptual regions are regions we create based on our knowledge, facts, and feelings. If I were to have a class of 20 students shade a map of the United States according to those states which they identify as the “American South” I might end up with 20 different maps. Sure, some overlap will occur; Tennessee and Alabama will appear as a Southern State always. But, what about Kentucky? Or, Texas? Look at the maps below and see if they compare to your mental maps of the South.

The American South, as defined by the Bureau of the Census (2000)

The Mason-Dixon line is clearly delineated. For those unfamiliar, the Mason-Dixon line is the line of survey determined by surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon in order to settle a boundary dispute. The Mason-Dixon line has come to signify the cultural boundary between the American Northeast and the American South.

The Mason-Dixon Line separates four states, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

The American “Deep South”

Another perspective on the American Deep South

The American South is also characterized by the self-identification of possessing strong spiritual values. To support the notion of people in the American South belief they possess strong spiritual values, I provide the map below.

The percent of people in each county professing adherence to the Baptist faith (2000)

As the above map illustrates almost precisely, the Bible Belt overlaps very nicely onto a map of the American South. Apparent deviations in adherence should be noted along the Texas-Mexico border, south Florida, and an apparent weakening of faith in West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland. Must be the liberalizing influences of all those atheists living in close proximity of Washington, D.C. The other religion which is finding expression in the light areas in the South is probably Catholicism. Again, geography.

Confederate Rebel Flag, also the Battle Flag of TennesseeMany proponents of the Confederate flag state the following when asked why they fly the flag: “It’s history, not hate.” In all honesty, I have to admit the supporters of the Confederate flag are probably right.

Because I admit the supporters are right does not mean I condone their actions, nor support their actions, nor agree with all the Confederate flag has come to symbolize.

What I am saying is the Confederate flag is not about Hatred. Nope.

What the Confederate flag symbolized then and I would argue still symbolizes is racism and the belief of racial or cultural superiority of white people over people of color. Additionally, I cannot limit my definition to only people of color. Southern Whites also appeared to have little regard for the Irish or Scottish and I suspect they possessed some disdain for the Jew.

Racism cannot be equivocated with hatred. Racism does not say, “I hate you.” Racism says, “I am better than you because I am White and you are not White.”

See, I think the opponents of the Confederate flag are wrong if they think the Confederacy and the flag of the Confederacy was about hatred of blacks, Jews, Irish, or Scots. The Confederacy was not about hatred. A white living in the Confederacy at the time did not hate blacks any more than they would hate their bull, their dog, their tobacco or cotton crops or anything else for which they invested good money. Would you hate your Fidelity mutual fund or your Harley-Davidson motorcycle?

The Confederacy was predicated on the ideal, a Christian ideal, by the way, slavery and the subjugation of non-White, non-Christian entities was not only acceptable but Divinely Mandated. Why did I say “entities?” I hesitate to say “human beings” as ample evidence exists supporting the idea many whites, including Western Europeans, doubted blacks and people of other races were actually humans, not true God-fearing humans. With the strong belief blacks were a form of sub-human, southern Whites were able to concoct essentially a fantasy with the guiding principle of economic success through the subjugation of inferior sub-human races.

After all does not even the Christian Bible proclaim,

“Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. (1 Peter 2:18)

Southern Whites felt they were literally commissioned by God to own slaves. Truth be known, God was not advocating slavery but merely telling those who were slaves how to conduct themselves in the face of adversity.

I’ve been talking the presence of the flag up among the people I know. Everyone I’ve spoken to wants the flag down. To the progressive, reasonable, and rational folk among society, the flag is essentially the analog of flying the Nazi flag in Regensburg, Germany. Except no one will ever see a Nazi flag flying in Germany, nor any where else in Europe because civilized countries have made doing so illegal.

The Confederate flag symbolizes nothing positive from what I can gather. No one I’ve talked to can point to one positive attribute the flag or the Confederacy represents. I have not found a single logical, rational, or reasonable discussion on the Interweb detailing any positive characteristic of either the symbol or the subsumed state.

However, I can find copious arguments to the contrary, a litany of traits and characteristics which run the spectrum from “embarrassing” to “reprehensible” and ending with “criminal.” Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate Lt. General and superior tactician, was accused of war crimes at the Battle of Fort Pillow, near Memphis, for which he earned the nickname “The Butcher of Fort Pillow.” In all honesty both sides had their saints and sinners.

The Confederacy advocated a class structure based on gender and race. White men constituted the upper echelon of the economic structure. Women were not generally allowed to own property or vote. Blacks formed the basis of labor along with Irish and Scots. Education was allowed to a meager few.

Unlike legislation undertaken by our European counterparts to prohibit the display of Nazi memorabilia, I am not advocating any one do anything. I want our society to open, and for people to be able to express themselves. In part, I want the really ignorant people to expose themselves, to hear how ignorant they sound, and for the greater progressive society to train themselves, their children, and their children how to conduct themselves. I want the Progressive portion of society to engage their brains and the brains of their children to develop Critical Thinking skills which will ultimately prevail and undermine the Fallacies of the Ignorant.

As much as I loathe racists, bigots, and racist bigots, to restrict their voice means restricting all voices. Then, the argument becomes “who gets to choose what is offensive?” Encroaching upon the Nature of Offensiveness, the argument could easily mutate into “your religion is offensive” which potentially leads down a dark and ugly alley and why I posit all politics should be void of religious context and content. Ideally, I’d like everyone to engage in mutual respect, but I realize my ideal is far too naive.

To argue the flag is a symbol of rebelling against injustice is a delusion. So, yeah, I don’t understand some peoples continued allegiance to the Confederate flag. But, the flag is not about hatred.

The flag is about false ego, narcissism, arrogance, and conceit.

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