25 June 2015
What is the Confederate flag?
A lot of people seem unsure, because they don't seem to understand why there's another movement to eliminate the battle flag from public life. This really seems more problematic for a lot of people than it should be. In a local paper a columnist (he's behind a paywall online) worried, despite agreeing that the Confederate flag stood for nothing good, that any symbol that may have been implicated in slavery might be targeted for purging. His worry is that taking down the flag will set us on a slippery slope. A coarser view also perceives a slippery slope but fears a kind of "political correctness" that seeks to take down the rebel flag and other symbols for no better reason than that certain people don't like them. For such people, the reductio ad absurdam is that if you take down the Confederate flag because black people object, we'll soon have to take down Christian symbols because Muslims object, or else memorials to civil-rights leaders will have to go because they offend certain white people, or else anytime someone doesn't like a thing, it'll have to be taken down. This is the fear of a tyranny of hurt feelings, and it misses the point of the moment. The Confederate flag is not merely unlikeable. No matter what its apologists claim, it represents something that should be unacceptable in American life. It is the chosen flag of the Charleston killer, who had himself photographed burning an American flag. Since the 1950s it has stood pretty plainly for white supremacy and racial segregation. There are reasons to dislike these things that will stand up in objective discussion. Our nation has an obligation to make clear that these beliefs are wrong and should not be endorsed, even if only on inference, in our public squares. Those who see the current movement as just another case of black folks throwing a fit until they get their way, and are indifferent to the offense the flag causes, are racists whether they realize it or not. I don't know whether they agree that Black Lives Matter, but they clearly think that black opinions, and more importantly black history don't matter. Perhaps they should be made to wear the flag they seem to care about so much like a scarlet letter. The flag might actually be useful then.