This will probably be the most controversial thing I have ever, or will ever post on here. I am posting this because I think it’s something that a lot of people are either over-looking, or not understanding.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, symbolism is very important to humans. We place meaning on objects, patterns, colors, pretty much everything. Flags are often used to bring a group of people, a culture or sub-culture together. It allows us to feel pride for our community. That being said, not everyone in a community thinks exactly the same on every issue facing the community.
Let’s look at America, first. Politically, we’re divided into two major parties, and about a thousand tiny parties. We can’t agree on how to perfectly run a country, but we all still fly the same flag. We don’t agree on social things either. We have people from every race and religion. We are a diverse group of people with very different views who are all (or mostly all) Americans who (mostly) all love our country and proudly fly our lovely flag. This is the same for all countries, even if they have a state sponsored religion or party, there are some who disagree.
So on to the confederate flag. Is it a symbol of racism, or heritage? Well let’s look at how it was used. It was used as the flag of the south. It represented southern culture; the way they lived. That included owning slaves for about one-third of the population. That doesn’t mean the rest of the population was free of racists, but we need to remember that not everyone was racist.
I’d like to remind you, or tell you if you don’t know, that everything that exists in society has a function. Everything that exists has a function. Slavery was a major part of the economic system of the south. They relied on it to function. When we abolished slavery, the south took a major hit. You wouldn’t be wrong if you said that they still haven’t exactly recovered.
Now I’m not saying we should allow slavery again. Slavery is a terrible system of exploitation for the benefit of the wealthy. No. Slavery is bad.
Back to the flag. It was a symbol of pride for southern culture. While the flag did represent the not so nice parts of southern culture, it also represented the good parts. I think a lot of people forget that.
I’d also like to address something else that many who are opposed to the flag have been saying. I read an article by someone who orchestrated a very well thought out argument against the flag. Please feel free to read the full article. The part of this article that I’d like to address is when he talked about symbolism and how it changes.
The meaning of symbols are fluid, they are never static. When a majority of people understand the symbol to point to another definition then the definition of that symbol changes.
He’s not wrong. Not at all. Hardly anything is static, especially not symbolism. The meaning of many symbols change as they are taken out of context by extremists, or crazy people (more on that in a minute). In his argument, he talks about how the meaning of the flag changes to one of racism when the KKK uses it as a symbol of their organization. He’s absolutely right. In that context, with the KKK, the flag is purely a symbol of racism and white-supremacy.
What he fails to recognize, and continues to fail to acknowledge in his following examples is that when the KKK takes the flag and changes it’s meaning, they don’t take away the original meaning from those who are not part of the KKK. In other words, the KKK were a small (relatively speaking) racist organization, but there were tons of southern people who didn’t join their ranks. There were plenty of southerners who didn’t burn the houses of blacks or otherwise behave violently toward black people. Those people still flew the flag with the old meaning of southern heritage and pride.
When KKK members adopted it as the symbol of their hate, it changed.
When it was waved proudly as a banner for segregationists, it changed.
Yes, it changed. But only for KKK members. Only for segregationists. For everyone else, it remained the same.
If you need another example, i’ll give you one from the article.
Take the swastika for example. It was a symbol that was very prevalent in eastern religions and even early Christianity… It was benign and decorative.
That is until it was adopted by the SS and Hitler’s Nazi Germany. It is a symbol and the definition of that symbol changed, and changed dramatically. It was assigned a new definition, a definition of hate and genocide.
For those of you who may not know, the swastika was a symbol used in eastern religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, often to represent peace, luck, success, and well-being. Then it was adopted by Nazi Germany and used as a symbol of hate toward Jews, disabled people, homosexuals, and anyone who was different. I’m not here to teach you about the holocaust.
Anyway, Hitler did use it as symbol of hatred, but that doesn’t mean that Hinduism can no longer use the swastika as their symbol of luck and success. Does that sound familiar? I hope so. If not, it’s the same as the southerners continuing to use their flag as a symbol of heritage and pride, even though some extremist used it as a symbol of hate.
What I’m getting at here is that just because a symbol’s meaning has changed, doesn’t mean that it can’t still represent the old. Why can’t we change it again? Why can’t we change it back?
If we say that symbolism is fluid, and can move to new meanings, can’t it also move to old meanings?
And if meanings can change, doesn’t that also mean that a symbol can have more than one meaning? The swastika does.
When you see a confederate flag, don’t assume that it’s being used as a symbol of racism, it could be a symbol of southern heritage and pride. Maybe that person likes the southern lifestyle.
We need to remember that people are complex. If you see southern culture as inherently racist, you are failing to acknowledge the diversity and individuality of southern culture. You are in fact being the bigot. You are grouping the members of a sub-culture together and labeling them with stereotype. It’s just like saying that because someone is wearing a cross on their necklace that they are homophobic. I’ve met plenty of Christians who fully support equal rights for the gay community.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think it’s fair to judge a whole group based on the acts and beliefs of extremists. Let’s try to keep complexity in mind and not generalize the other.
Note: I realized that I’ve opened up room for debate. Please be respectful in any comments left on this post!
Part of the Daily Blogging Challenge July 2015