Thursday, October 6, 2011

Some thoughts on the Confederate flag debate

Governments should reject symbolism of hate, terror

Texas Gov. Rick Perry recently faced criticism for a position he took (while Lieutenant Governor) regarding keeping the Confederate flag within state institutions, including his state's Supreme Court building.

Let's deviate from the campaign politics for a moment and focus on the issue of the flag itself. Long seen as a symbol of intolerance, many white southerners see it instead as a historical artifact, a piece of their culture that is, in their minds, worth preserving.

But oddly enough, the Confederate flag flew for less than two years during the Civil War. Adopted in May of 1863, the design was actually the second for the fledgling rebel resistance, a part of the CSA for a shorter time period than the "Stars and Bars" design.

The flag held much more prominence, both today and then, as part of the resistance to the era of Reconstruction. Members of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacy groups proudly displayed the flag as a symbol of their dedication to southern values.

Though it was also a huge symbol during the war, it's significance changed from one of honor under General Lee, to one of despair and terror under Jim Crow. It's symbolism has remained this way for generations, especially for African Americans, up to the present day.

Historic symbols ought to receive respect, as should individual rights to freedom of speech. But when the symbols carry with them a weight of intolerance and subjugation, those individuals must understand the hate that their beloved artifacts hold in the eyes of others. A Nazi flag, for instance, is just another piece of cloth -- but the symbolism it carries with it is similarly one of dread and terror.

The individual has this right, can display these images if they so choose, understanding that they carry that historic weight with them. But these symbols, shrouded in such terrible traditions, should not be so readily embraced by a government, whose sole aim is to cater to everyone's interests, and not prolong a sentiment of fear and terror.

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