Confederate Flag
September 23, 2005 11:04 AM   Subscribe

What is your impression of the confederate flag?

I have been having this ongoing debate with many of the guys that I work with. They believe the confederate flag to be a symbol of the Old South, representing old southern values and the strength and resolve of Southerners. I have an entirely different perception of the confederate flag, as I think the ideas symbolised by this flag have shifted with time. I see it more as something that is associated with intolerance (for lack of a better word), and certainly the confederate flag has been used by many hate groups in recent history. Am I perceiving this flag in entirely the wrong way? I have to be honest, whenever I see someone wearing clothes with a confederate flag or whenever I see a confederate flag flying somwhere, my immediate thought is that the person/people showing off this symbol are racist or white supremisists. Am I way off base here? (By the way, please no discussion about whether or not someone should be allowed to fly the flag. That's not the argument. I agree that is a form of protected free speech.)
posted by AlliKat75 to Society & Culture (80 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't like it one bit. For the reasons you listed. Black people don't fly the confederate flag, and that's no accident.
posted by teece at 11:07 AM on September 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

I live in the Midwest. I'm stereotyping here, but I most often see it as a sticker on a pickup that's usually beat to shit. My thought is that the person flyin' the flag is a sister-kissing redneck. I don't think white supremacist or racist, although that factors into it. "Redneck" is the overriding thought for me.
posted by Atom12 at 11:09 AM on September 23, 2005

It's interesting to see here in Vancouver how many of the people who have the flag on their trucks, etc. are asian or native canadian. It's puzzled me for a while why this is.
posted by Kickstart70 at 11:11 AM on September 23, 2005

The whole Old Southern Values thing has always struck me as somewhat of a crock. Never once has someone been able to explain to me what values were unique to the old south. The flag was the banner under which hundreds of thousands were convinced to take up arms against their own country. We used to call that treason. My impression is that confederate flag wavers still sympathize with that decision. Why? Beats me.
posted by Gilbert at 11:13 AM on September 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

"Southern heritage" is usually a euphemism for "racism" in the same way that "states' rights" is. I've lived in the South my entire life and I would estimate that the vast majority of the people who fly the Confederate flag are most likely to use the words "Yankee" and lock their car doors when driving through predominantly Black parts of town.
posted by trey at 11:13 AM on September 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

Well, let's think about it this way. It may be a symbol of Souther resolve, but the South was resolved to do what?

Let's just assume for a minute that the Civil War was fought over the issue of State's Rights. States were fighting over the right to do what?

I would venture to guess that your colleagues have very little ties in their own heritage to what they perceive is the "old south" That is to say that most people in the south up until recent times were poor yeoman farmers, not your Robert E. Lee's and Scarlet O'Hara's. Furthermore many modern Southern residents are the descendants of yankees.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:16 AM on September 23, 2005

I think your friends (and others who say the same) are correct in that the Confederate flag represents the values and ideals of the Old South. It's just that the ideals of the Old South were horrible. People forget that these traditions include more than mint juleps on the porch, they include ignorance, interolance, hypocracy, and cruelty. The mistake that people make when they wave that flag is picking and choosing what parts of history they remember.
posted by Hildago at 11:20 AM on September 23, 2005

Just echoing trey and Pollomacho--to me, at least, the rebel flag represents racism and foolish pride (pride about something shameful). People flying the confederate flag usually want to say the Civil War was about states' rights, which is fine as long as you consider that the states' right that got the Confederates all riled up was the right to have slaves. I tend to look at the flag and think the person flying it is a racist, probably explicitly so, and if not, then at least extraordinarily ignorant and thoughtless.
posted by Tuwa at 11:23 AM on September 23, 2005

It's the marker of the side that went to war principally to retain its ability to keep slaves. Any other meanings people may wish to ascribe to it are dwarfed by that. Human slavery is a pretty big elephant in a mighty small room.
posted by dong_resin at 11:24 AM on September 23, 2005

Predominantly negative, for reasons already covered. I suppose there may be positive aspects to the symbol, in a sort of mythological-values sense, but as the saying goes, frankly my dear, I don't give a damn.

To take the liberty of pseudoGodwinning myself, the confederate flag is in a sort of low-rent inbred-younger-cousin position to the swastika. The latter, yes, yes, was a symbol of perfectly fine things before the Germans decided that one incredibly brutal internecine conflict just wasn't enough and that what history really needed was a second and much larger one (very industrious folk, you gotta hand it to them), and took it for their own. Old Hindu and Buddhist artwork, cycles of life, weak counterpoints of "but the Nazi version was mirror-reversed!", that sort of thing.

But it doesn't matter. The symbol's history is now what it is; life is short, and my heuristics are going to instantly and sharply downgrade my opinion any passerby who thinks having it on their vehicle is exactly the kind of vehicular fashion statement they need to make.
posted by Drastic at 11:25 AM on September 23, 2005

Old southern values, hard work and resolve built on the backs of slaves? The confederate flag represent a lie that many old southerners still want to believe. Others are just too ignorant (read dumb) to know any better...
posted by cellardoor at 11:26 AM on September 23, 2005

I lived in Georgia for six years, and saw the Confederate flag a lot, and was there when various groups were trying to get the Confederate flag taken off the state flags in the region.

In my mind, the single biggest fact that undermines the "It's just showing Southern pride" argument is that it was put on the state flags directly after Brown v. Board of Eduation, as a pretty explicit "Fuck You" response to forced school integration. So on the state flags, at least, it's not a historic relic of a vanished, proud way of life but a blatant display of support for rasict policies.
posted by occhiblu at 11:27 AM on September 23, 2005 [2 favorites]

I often see it as Atom12 sees it, as a symbol of lack of education, lower-class and ignorance. I always assumed it was a symbol of disenchantment, as a way to say "If things had gone in the good 'ole boys direction, we'd be better off", which to me seems wholey un-American. I don't see it as blatantly racist, not like flying a KKK flag, but it is not inoffensive to blacks by any means.

Pollomacho, I think there is something to be said for state's being able to govern themselves (especially on libertarian issues such as drug laws, or eminent domain), but it is sad that when given freedom, states traditionally abuse it by oppressing the minority.
posted by geoff. at 11:27 AM on September 23, 2005

Oh and I think flying it over a state flag is ridiculous. It is a symbol of a government that we defeated. It's somewhat akin to the French flying symbols of their monarchy as pride.
posted by geoff. at 11:30 AM on September 23, 2005

[Trey writes: "Southern heritage" is usually a euphemism for "racism" in the same way that "states' rights" is.]

Huh? Southern Heritage I can buy. But 'state's rights' is a euphemism for racism? States do have rights, and our founders (the ones from the north) would today be considered state's rights extremists, for the most part. So, I don't get this at all.

As for the civil war: It's a fact that it was fought over many things, but any analysis has to put slavery at the very center. The south considered itself to be virtuous because they were resisting a tyrannical power (the north) who was acting as a threat to their God given right to own and manage property (black people). In hindsight, this position itself seems incredibly tyrannical and evil. So, I'd have to agree with the other people who have posted (except Trey's comment about state's rights). The flag represents old southern values, and old southern values, on average, sucked.
posted by crapples at 11:32 AM on September 23, 2005

as a little kid living in a distant land, the confederate flag for me meant only one thing: the Dukes of Hazzard

than, I read up a bit on American history, and it never seemed as cool. actually, it gives me the willies
posted by matteo at 11:38 AM on September 23, 2005

The states right argument is an ignorant canard. States have certain rights to self government. Those rights end at the ability to violate the Bill of Rights. And there is no way in hell slavery was consistent with the Bill of Rights or any decent human world view. Any argument that states have the right to violate the Constitution is effectively making that document a dead letter.

That is what is being flown when the Confederate flag is raised. I'd be curious, though: is the Confederate flag's popularity a modernish thing, perhaps in response to desegregation and the civil rights movement? And fueled by Nixon's Southern Strategy? I would suspect yes, and occhiblu's one data point would seem to back that up. If it's true, then the flag is just straight up racism, whether the one flying it realizes it or not.
posted by teece at 11:39 AM on September 23, 2005

Lived in the south for a number of years, always thought it was an indicator of idiocy. Or, in a limited number of cases, kitsch.

...and anyone that yearns for some nebulous Old South has always been, in my experience, a racist or profoundly shallow (that's a nice way of saying an ignorant fuck). Can't say if that applies to everyone everywhere, but it's been 100% so far...
posted by aramaic at 11:41 AM on September 23, 2005

I certainly agree with all the other answers on this thread and I will always oppose the display of that flag. However, the people I know that display the Confederate flag do so, in my opinion, for reasons related primarily to self-identity issues rather than racism. I'll admit that latent racism is most likely present in these individuals as well, but their bigger problem is a need to associate with something larger and more grand than their own lives. The people I'm refering to are all young middle-class frat boys that spent a portion of their childhood in the south but grew up in the southwest.

It reminds of kids I've known that take excessive pride in their Irish heritage despite never having been to Ireland and only having a vague understanding of who their ancestors were and where they were from (having an Irish name and red hair was enough for them).
posted by mullacc at 11:41 AM on September 23, 2005

Pollomacho, I think there is something to be said for state's being able to govern themselves

Yes, that's fine, then wave the Bonnie Blue Flag a symbol of Independence and self-determination rather than the battle flag of a breakaway republic based on a slave economy.

Now to godwin either, but, as Drastic pointed to, you wouldn't just assume that a guy flying a Nazi banner was for German pride would you, even if he waved it during Octoberfest?
posted by Pollomacho at 11:42 AM on September 23, 2005

and by the way I skipped the Jessica impson movie -- did the new General Lee still carried that flag?
posted by matteo at 11:45 AM on September 23, 2005

I would actually agree with mullacc -- the individuals I knew in high school who were into Southern Pride seemed the southern equivalent of the guys in Jersey who are into Italian pride. Or the guys who are REALLY into team spirit for the high-school football team.

There's just a general unthinking "We're AWESOME! And we're going to CRUSH everyone else! Because they are not as bad-ass as we are!" sense about it, that doesn't always equal "We hate black people" as much as "We don't think much farther than 'Go, us! We're cool cuz we were born somewhere!'"
posted by occhiblu at 11:46 AM on September 23, 2005

Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz provides a look at this issue that is both funny and insightful.

My impression when I see the confederate flag? In line with those decrying its use above.... It's depressing.
posted by Morrigan at 11:53 AM on September 23, 2005

Yes, the Confederate flag is primarily a symbol of horrific oppression.


I wouldn't go as far as to judge people who put it up. Some of them are no doubt unreconstructed plain-old racist pigs who'd suck Jim Crow and call it honey. But others are just saying "Yeeeehaw, I'm a good ol' boy! Bring on the bass boat and barbecue!"

I don't think it's an analog to a swastika, really -- the only people who fly swastikas in North America or Europe do so entirely because they're fucked up racist pigs. It's more akin, I think, to old Russians who have a picture of Smilin' Uncle Joe on the wall, or carry his picture around on MayDay or EndOfTheGreatPatrioticWar Day -- misguided and they ought to know better, but in a sort of understandable way and it doesn't mean they're automatically Not Good People.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:53 AM on September 23, 2005

It's really too bad it has such a negative connotation, because as far as flags go, it's a gorgeous one.

Unless I'm the only one that find it aesthetically pleasing when divorced from the negative moral associations.
posted by Imperfect at 11:55 AM on September 23, 2005

But at base it's still a depressing and awful thing to see, and even if I know I shouldn't I do think less of random people with Confederate paraphernalia on their person/car/house.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:56 AM on September 23, 2005

I agree with occhiblu. FWIW I am a life-long Georgia resident . . . It's weird. I mean, sure, a huge number of people that fly the Confederate Battle Flag are racist as all get out, but they're also . . . I don't know, a lot of them are very isolated, either literally geographically, or socially/socio-economically. Generally people who are all torn up over it are self-identifying in some way, trying to find an identity. And there's a lot of ignorance anywhere you see that flag. And, FWIW, plenty of places you don't see it.
posted by Medieval Maven at 12:01 PM on September 23, 2005

Wait, so anyone who is "all torn up" about people flying the Battle Flag of the CSA is trying to find an identity? Or did I misread you?
posted by trey at 12:03 PM on September 23, 2005

The worst you can say about the Confederate flag is that it is a symbol of oppression, bigotry, and willful ignorance.

The best you can say is that it is a symbol of the right to government by the consent of the governed. The irony here is that those governed included those without rights of any sort. But if I had to make a best attempt at putting a positive spin on it, that would be it.

In reality, the Confederate flag usually stands for the worst things you can say about it. The bit about government with consent is severely hampered by the secession being an attempt at perpetuation of denying people any civil liberties without their consent.
posted by Ryvar at 12:11 PM on September 23, 2005

I grew up in the South and went to college in the boonies of Georgia. While I don't consider myself much of a Southerner, I certainly know plenty of people who are. What mullacc said fits with my experience.

Flannery O'Connor wrote a really excellent essay which touched on the peculiarities of Southern pride. (I can't remember the title but it's collected in Mystery and Manners.)

To paraphrase, the South had its fall from grace. It saw its idols crushed to dust and that loss is something Southerners carry with them to this day.

I think of the Confederate flagwavers in this regard--pride still wounded by a war that ended more than 100 years ago, they fly the flag to show allegiance to their imperfect home and as a big fuck you to the outsiders who don't understand but judge them just the same.

Please don't assume that I am an apologist for the stars and bars. I just think that the flag waving is more complicated than a gesture of overt racism.

Look too at how it's been appropriated by folks like Kid Rock to stand for being a bad ass. (Horowitz's book is really an excellent analysis of this trend.)
posted by Sully6 at 1:11 PM on September 23, 2005

Which Confederate flag? The Stars and Bars? The Battle Flag> The Bonnie Blue Flag?
posted by alumshubby at 1:14 PM on September 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

Our neighbor here has a confederate flag tattoo and I don't think he's racist at all, but the tattoo definitely weirds me out. My impression is also formed by what occhiblu said which bears repeating: "it was put on the state flags directly after Brown v. Board of Eduation, as a pretty explicit "Fuck You" response to forced school integration" so there is some recent precedent for the confederate flag = we don't like black people reading of it.
posted by jessamyn at 1:16 PM on September 23, 2005

I think of the Confederate flagwavers in this regard--pride still wounded by a war that ended more than 100 years ago, they fly the flag to show allegiance to their imperfect home and as a big fuck you to the outsiders who don't understand but judge them just the same.

Or maybe the outsiders do understand, and judge accordingly. To me, those who fly the Confederate flag simply refuse to accept two facts: 1) their ancestors were on the losing team; and 2) their political and moral positions were completely indefensible.
posted by scratch at 1:25 PM on September 23, 2005

I think your interpretation of the flag is correct Allikat75. However, I also believe some people can see the flag as a symbol of Southern pride divorced from its association with slavery and racism. A lot of the hard feelings that persist even to this day come about not from the fact the South lost the war, or from anger over losing the ability to keep slaves, but from the humiliating fashion in which the South was treated during the Reconstruction. That created a sense of identity and feelings of bitterness against the North that persist to this day and which form part of the basis of Southern pride and identity for many. The flag is symbol of that. Given the history of the flag and the way so many hate groups employ it as a symbol of their hatred, and given that so many people who fly the flag are essentially racist crackers, I see it as damaged goods, a symbol of racism and repression and no longer much else. I can understand an alternative viewpoint, but I do not really agree with it.
posted by caddis at 1:25 PM on September 23, 2005

"it was put on the state flags directly after Brown v. Board of education"

I think that's the convincing counterargument to those who want to keep the Confederate flags flying over the state capitals because that's "our tradition."

However, I bet most people--particularly the younger ones--are ignorant of the flag's relationship to the Supreme Court decision.
posted by Sully6 at 1:29 PM on September 23, 2005

The best you can say is that it is a symbol of the right to government by the consent of the governed. The irony here is that those governed included those without rights of any sort. But if I had to make a best attempt at putting a positive spin on it, that would be it.

Funny, I actually had a discussion the other day with a (black) friend of mine about the Confederate Constitution. I made the statement, "You know, if it weren't for the slavery, it was actually a pretty decent government." We laughed about that, because of course, you can't separate the slavery from the history of the CSA or the USA. It's just a fact and something we have to deal with.

I'm a lifelong Georgian so I've seen my share of the battle flag. We just took it off our state flag and (after a brief interim where our flag looked like a placemat) replaced it with a re-imagined version of the CSA national flag. (Which, IMHO, looks better anyway, plus has not been taken up by postwar racists as much as the "X" has.) (And additionally, it looks very similar to the state flag we had c. 1870 as opposed to the battle flag we put on in the 1950s.)

Here, I would venture to say most who wave the flag (disproportionally, but not exclusively, on pickups and trailers) aren't itching to return to plantations or even Jim Crow. Some are, of course, but I think most see it, as noted above, as either a sign of their heritage (whether they're descended from the Old South or just romanticize the place they live now) or their independence -- a sort of libertarian, "don't let Washington tell me what to do" attitude.

Also, here in Georgia, it's become a symbol that Atlanta (our capital) can't tell us what to do either. After then-Gov. Zell Miller failed, then Gov. Roy Barnes succeeded, in removing the banner from the state flag, many people -- good ol' boys and just regular guys -- took it as a sign that the Legislature, especially urban Democrats, had caved in to PC pressure. While most of those people were conservatives anyway, a lot of people rallied around the flag as a symbol of the state's overreach. (For that reason and many others, Roy Barnes became the first governor to lose to a Republican since Reconstruction.)

So to make a long story short, not everyone who flies the flag is an ignorant racist redneck. But many are, and many who aren't won't fly it for fear of looking like one. I know I can get behind the ideals of self-government, states' rights (in the original, non-racist sense), and keeping government mostly out of our business. But you won't catch me flying the battle flag anytime soon.
posted by SuperNova at 1:32 PM on September 23, 2005

Ob. revelation: I'm a Southerner.

The Stars and Bars is something that barely rates a second glance from me. In my mind, it doesn't jump out and scream racism, prejudice, or evil as blatantly as some other symbols (such as the swastika). Many of the people that I see flying the flag or displaying it in some manner follow the stereotype: ignorant, racist white Southerners who use it as a cover for their bigotry. A small number of those who display it regard it as a testament to their heritage as the losers in a war that tore the United States apart and which still, to a certain extent, divides the nation today.

To me, first and foremost, it is a symbol of clannishness. Southerners in my experience tend to stick together (or at least take notice of each other) in a way that their Northern counterparts don't. The Stars and Bars is a way of expressing that sense of commonality. There is still some simmering resentment about the war here and plenty of people who would seriously say things like, "I'd never let my [relative] marry a Yankee." These are the kinds of people who won't let the war die and go on. These are people that history has passed by.

Ultimately, it is a symbol with many facets, none of them being things that I care for. I'm not proud to be associated with people who display that flag and I don't believe that the South will rise again. The war was fought, the South lost, and we should all go on with our lives.
posted by staresbynight at 1:38 PM on September 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

You are mistaken if you think no black person waves the Confederate flag. And you're mistaken if you think no black person identifies more closely with a Southern, Confederate flag-wavin' "redneck" than they do with a liberal white person from another part of the U.S. I went to a high school where black kids wore t-shirts with the Confederate flag and where their parents waved Confederate flags at football games. And if you dismiss them as being ignorant, you're doing them a disservice. These same families celebrated Juneteenth.

The Confederate flag symbolized rebellion to me and to the people(white, black, hispanic, asian, east Indian, etc.) I grew up with in West Texas. I think this meaning developed from the decades of poverty, exploitation, and loss of power the Southern states faced for many decades after the Civil War. It's overly simplistic to say the flag represents bigotry. Symbols and words can have their meanings changed--consider the gay rights movement's co-opting of the words 'queer' and 'fag' or how the meaning of the word 'yankee' has changed.
posted by lobakgo at 1:45 PM on September 23, 2005

Being white, being English, I've no real overtones from the Confederate flag. Only within the last 4-5 years did I even find out what it's history wound around. That's not to say I haven't known of the flag design itself.

It's a macho, obnoxious format, a strong diagonal cross studded with stars on a vivid background. It's ugly and, however simplistic, appears busy.
But that's just a design impression.
posted by NinjaPirate at 1:56 PM on September 23, 2005

"Or maybe the outsiders do understand, and judge accordingly."

Scratch, I was going to get into that whole judgement thing in a bit more detail but it just seemed like too much gut spilling on my part. In a nutshell, when I lived in Georgia, a lot of folks I knew had a real sensitivity--maybe insecurity--about how outsiders perceived Southerners. (Maybe some of the Southerners who have posted to this thread can confirm this or tell me to get bent.)

I really took it for paranoia until I moved to Chicago. I just couldn't believe the stupid things people asked me about the South. As if it was another planet.

While not denying the very real problems of the region, I think some people do use this South as country's whipping boy, a representation of the worst of our nation (racism, Christian fundamentalism, poverty and ignorance). And I do think that this is a motivation for some of those flagwavers.

All that said, I would never display the flag or support anyone who would. I just think the reasons behind are more complicated than overt racism.
posted by Sully6 at 1:58 PM on September 23, 2005

It pisses off liberals, and that's enough for some people, including my brother.
posted by goethean at 2:05 PM on September 23, 2005

I grew up in Canada, so when I moved to the States for college I viewed the use of the Stars & Bars as something akin to the prevalence of the fleurdelisé — a regional expression of pride in one's heritage, and a rebellion against outside forces that exert what is felt to be an inordinate amount of control over that region.

Make no mistake; I wouldn't want to try to make the case that Southern heritage is either more or less "worthwhile" (whatever that means) as Québecois heritage. I'm just saying that this is my own personal knee-jerk reaction to it.
posted by Johnny Assay at 2:09 PM on September 23, 2005

It's a symbol of racist traitors.
posted by bshort at 2:26 PM on September 23, 2005

To me, those who fly the Confederate flag Kerry/Edwards bumper sticker simply refuse to accept two facts: 1) their ancestors they were on the losing team; and 2) their political and moral positions were completely indefensible.

I don't agree with the above, but I'm trying to illustrate a point. I hope the OP realizes his responses being skewed.

Anyone who bases state's rights need to study what the Framers intended our government to resemble, and how far we are from that vision now.
posted by keswick at 2:34 PM on September 23, 2005

Sully6: You're not far off the mark. I wouldn't say that I'm insecure about how people perceive Southerners, but I do resent the stereotype that all white Southerners are racist inbred rednecks (or that all black Southerners are lazy drug addicts and thieves).

People use the southern states as bywords for ignorance, stupidity, bigotry, incest, and a lot of other things that we associate with being uncivilized. The hell of it is that the same behavior goes on almost everywhere in the United States, it's just that the Southerners get called on it more than anything, which makes a lot of us agitated and defensive about being from the South.
posted by staresbynight at 2:45 PM on September 23, 2005

The stars 'n' bars is often a symbol of racism and, as it has been sort of phased out of mainstream southern society--I never see it as much as I did just 15 years ago--the flag has become even more associated with blatant racism. I have a photo from a Mardi Gras parade in Covington, La. from the early 1990s, however, that is definitely in the "confederate flag as kitsch" vein. Try making sense of this photo. I await the in-depth cultural analysis. Double points for a quote from Pierre Bourdieu or something.

You can also see a Confederate battle flag in the background in interviews for The Last Waltz.
posted by raysmj at 2:45 PM on September 23, 2005

Pollomach: Thanks for the link to the Bonnie Blue. I am actually the descendant of citizens of the Republic of West Florida.

I'm a Southerner and I have an emotional attachment the Confederate flag that I'm not sure I can even explain to myself. I expect it has to do with one of the reasons mentioned above - "for reasons related primarily to self-identity issues rather than racism".

On the other hand I don't think I own anything bearing the flag, I would never fly one, wear one or attach a sticker to my car that depicted one. I fully understand that to do so would be offensive to say an African-American. If I were African-American to see someone do so might even incite me to violence. I don't know how they tolerate it.
posted by Carbolic at 2:46 PM on September 23, 2005

I was going to make a comment earlier about the causes and effects of the civil war and about modern-day prejudices and stereotypes, but I don't think anyone here really wants me to lecture them, and other posters (lobakgo, staresbynight, etc) have put it better.

I think it's interesting that America is still more-or-less divided by the same agricultural (now, small-town) vs. industrial (now big-city) political parties that existed before the Civil War.
posted by muddgirl at 2:57 PM on September 23, 2005

I do resent the stereotype that all white Southerners are racist inbred redneck

So do I, but that has nothing to do with the symbolism of the Confederate flag. I've seen ignorant, racist, inbred rednecks in many parts of the US. I've also seen the Stars and Bars on their pick-ups.

The use of the flag has nothing to do with actual Southern heritage as a great deal of those waving it have no ancestry that would have waved it in 1864, except possibly demonstrating how hey just took it off a dead reb.
posted by Pollomacho at 2:58 PM on September 23, 2005

Hate it hate it hate it fucking hate it, in a visceral way that is way beyond rational. That flag stands, historically, for racism, slavery, and treason. Hate groups like the KKK have not hijacked the Confederate flag, they are using it for the purposes for which it was originally designed. The stars and bars are to southern culture what the swastika is to German culture--a symbol only of its very worst aspects.
posted by LarryC at 3:09 PM on September 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

Someone asked if the Confederate flag became popular only during and after the Civil Rights movement, and the answer is no. From my own experience, I grew up in the South, at least since the turn of the last century, the Confederate flag has been an enduring symbol, good or bad, for Southerners.

In Charlottesville, Virginia, there are two small parks in the downtown area. One is dedicated to General Robert E. Lee and the other is dedicated to General "Stonewall" Jackson. The monuments are essentially equestrians on cement blocks, and close examination on at least one, if not both, will reveal the presence of the Confederate battle flag. Both these monuments were put up around the 1920's, and in the dedication ceremonies for one, there had been a plan to dress children up as a living flag.

A quick Confederate flag primer:

The most commonly recognized Confederate flag is the Battle Flag. Though, usually people show off theNaval Jack since it has the usual flag dimensions that we're most used to.

The nickname "Stars and Bars" is usually misapplied to the above and is more accurately given to The First National Flag . I've always considered this the subtle Southern pride flag, since most people don't recognize it for what it is and it doesn't incite the same reaction as the Battle flag or Naval Jack.

However, the battle flag proved popular and the Confederate Congress adopted it as the Second National Flag by slapping the battleflag in the upper left hand corner on a field of white. This caused a problem, however, since when the flag was limp, it could be mistakenly viewed as a white surrender flag. Not long after a broad red vertical stripe was slapped onto the right edge of the flag, producing the Third National Flag. The Third National was the last official Confederate flag.

Wikipedia has a good entry on the flag, from which the above links are set to, here.

One of the reasons the flag persists, is that its part of the Lost Cause myth. In perhaps one of the rare occassions in history, the side that lost managed to convince not only itself, but its conquerors, that its treason was virtuous and courageous. The flag that represented this brave struggle also adopted the same adjectives, that is, to the whites who had fought under it and then their descendants.

Another aspect is that the flag is part of a failure or indesirability for Americans in the South to accept the truth behind what their ancestors fought for. Ultimately, their ancestors were fighting a war of rebellion to preserve their ability to keep a race of people in chains. On top of that, they lost! For your average American, up until Vietnam, military defeat was simply not part of the national psyche. American history was taught and enshrined as one of progress and American invincibility when it came to armed struggle. For the Southerners to integrate back into the Union, it might be argued that they needed their lost cause . Otherwise, a whole region of Americans might have carried with them an enduring belief that they were no longer the same as their victorious cousins just north of the Mason-Dixon line.

An example of this healing might be at the time of the Spanish-American War. As the trains carrying soldiers went south to Florida, they passed southerners waving both the American and the Confederate flag. They must have felt the same pride in both flags to wave them both, rather than one instead of another.

In brief, the Confederate flag for a fair percentage of Southerners, will never immediately symbolize a symbol of racism, but a desire of an American psyche to cope with a traditionally non-American past.
posted by Atreides at 3:10 PM on September 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

A black friend recently told me about a time her car broke down by the side of the highway...and the only person who stopped to help her was a white man with a Confederate flag on his truck. She's lived around here her whole life, and said it was the first time she'd been forced to rethink what those flags meant to people.

I live in Columbia, South Carolina, where just a few years ago the flag was taken off the top of the Statehouse (and moved to the lawn in front of it, but you take what you can get). We are the home of Maurice's BBQ. We are drowning in Confederate flags. We are drowning in racists, too. Much of the time, in my experience, the two are correlated.

It's both simple and complicated, as I think all the comments so far attest to. It is not wrong to see the flag as a racist symbol. But it's also a symbol of something that can feed racism: disenfranchisement.
posted by climalene at 3:29 PM on September 23, 2005

For reference, the confederate constitution

For a measured southern view on this and other matters southern, read John Shelton Reed. A thoughtful, decent, and very witty man.

In particular, try to dig out his "The Banner That Won't Stay Furled," Southern Cultures 8 (Spring 2002).

An earlier version was published as A Mississippi Face-Slapping Contest: The Many Meanings of the Confederate Flag. Institute of United States Studies, University of London, 2002.
posted by IndigoJones at 3:46 PM on September 23, 2005

Old South cultural values
I found this wingnut outfit at one of the most insane sites I've ever seen: LizMichael.
Her article Shooting Them Finally Comes Into Play targets eight groups of Americans for assassination.
posted by Mack Twain at 3:50 PM on September 23, 2005

In a Northern state, like California - rebel as in what a teen lavishes in.
In the Southern States - lost faculties regarding its own country's flag.
Also, since it's a flag w/o meaning since no body of government in the world uses it - may be just cool looking, meaningless.
posted by thomcatspike at 4:03 PM on September 23, 2005

I believe the confederate flag to be a symbol of the Old South, representing old southern values of slavery and strong class divisions. The South needs to come to terms with its past. The US needs to come to terms with the same past. There are plenty of individuals who fly the Confederate flag on their car, clothes, whatever, who don't identify themselves as racist. But it's grossly disrespectful of the suffering of the Africans who came here as slaves to display that flag. I cannot understand Southerners who cling to it.
posted by theora55 at 4:24 PM on September 23, 2005

matteo writes "as a little kid living in a distant land, the confederate flag for me meant only one thing: the Dukes of Hazzard"

Me too and it was cool 'cause it was painted on that bad ass charger.
posted by Mitheral at 5:01 PM on September 23, 2005

The Confederate Battle Flag (or Naval Jack—thanks Atreides) elicits in me the sort of visceral reaction some others have mentioned.

It's one thing if I see it while in the South, even a border state like Kentucky that wasn't even in the Confederacy, where I can at least chalk it up to sectional pride, however misguided. It's quite another when I see it north of the Mason-Dixon, where it makes me spitting mad.

Then it's either ignorance, racism, or Kid Rockesque statement of bad-assedness, mixed with a complete lack of respect for one's own history. When I see it here in Ohio, I want to run up on the sap and remind him that he's in the home of General Ulysses S Grant and four other Civil War officers that became president, not to mention thousands of men killed by bastards that fought under that flag.

I sometimes let it get to me too much. I nearly flew off the handle at a flea market, and it took some restraint not to spit on some monuments in Charleston a while back. In fact, there were a few occasions when it took more restrain than I could muster.
posted by cramer at 5:02 PM on September 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

as a midwestern yankee, i think it's a lot more complex than confederate flag=racism ... certainly, that's one aspect of it ... but there's also an identification with southern culture and values ... (modern ones, not antebellum ones)

i do know that when i heard charlie daniels sing "the south's going to do it again", i didn't get the impression that he was talking about bringing slavery back

i can actually understand kid rock and his display of the stars and bars ... midwestern culture is a lot closer to southern culture than one might think ... and that means the good and bad ... we have one thing in common ... other parts of the country look down upon us as unsophisticated and dumb ...

i don't like seeing the stars and stars around here, but it doesn't necessarily mean the guy's a klan member to me ... and the kkk is known to show themselves around michigan ...

let's put it this way ... it never bugged me that the dukes had it on the general lee ... i was too busy looking at daisy, when i bothered looking at all

i would never fly it myself ... my great-great-grandfather was in the union army and would haunt me ...
posted by pyramid termite at 6:23 PM on September 23, 2005

My impression of the flag is that it's possible for people to genuinely see the flag as a symbol of Southern pride and not have any racist sentiment. However, I think for many people it's impossible to not see the flag as a symbol of racism and hatred, especially given its prominent display at Ku Klux Klan rallies and parades.

The states right argument is an ignorant canard. States have certain rights to self government. Those rights end at the ability to violate the Bill of Rights. And there is no way in hell slavery was consistent with the Bill of Rights or any decent human world view. Any argument that states have the right to violate the Constitution is effectively making that document a dead letter.

This is one of the things that the Civi War settled, and until the 14th Amendment was passed in 1868, states could ignore the Bill of Rights:
Prior to the 14th, states were free to ignore the Bill of Rights; a series of Supreme Court rulings made it clear that the Bill was to apply to acts of the Federal Government only. With the establishment of the 14th, the Bill, or at least parts of it, is made to apply to state law, too.
The Civil War was about a lot of things, and is more complicated than it's usually made out to be. Although slavery was the overriding issue, it's an oversimplification to say the war was "about slavery" because that implies that the North was fed up with the South having slaves and started a war to end slavery, when emancipation was a controversial stance that gained support over the course of the war.

In 1862, Lincoln wrote:
My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.
I agree with the recommendations of Confederates in the Attic; it's a fascinating, and sad, book.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:26 PM on September 23, 2005

To me, it's simple. The Confederate Flag, as represented today (as pointed out, actually the Naval Jack) , stands for this: the utmost treason any man can muster against the ideals this country was founded on -- that one should go to war with one's own country to ensure the enslavement of another man. Thousands died protecting those ideals, and flying this flag spits on them, and those who died to create this country.

If I had my well, well, flogging would be to good for them. One of the greatest mistakes made was the gentle way we treated the traitors of 1860, and they've repaid us in spade -- Dixiecrats, the lies of "State Rights", and of course, the modern GOP. If only they'd hung Davis, Lee, all of them, like the traitors they were, maybe, just maybe, we wouldn't be here.
posted by eriko at 6:28 PM on September 23, 2005

I just sort of stand in front of a red background and make an "X" with my arms and legs, to approximate the stars and bars.

Oh you meant what I think of it.

I understand the whole "Heritage Not Hate" thing more than most of you, but I also feel like if it bothers people that much, it's not a cool thing to perpetuate.

(Somebody was talking about the "General Lee" on the Dukes of Hazzard, and how different would it be if it was the "General Rommel" and had big swastikas painted on it, which admittedly I found amusing.)
posted by First Post at 7:54 PM on September 23, 2005

eriko: Your attitude is exactly why some fly the flag. It's a big "fuck you". Just so you'll understand exactly what they're saying the next time you see it.

As I said above I'm a Southerner who feels some emotional attachment to the flag but would never display it out of consideration for what I know, understandably, it means to most African-Americans. Coming in contact with opinions like yours is the only thing that gives me the urge to run it up the pole.

Your views are simplistic. If slavery had served the economic interest of the North rather than the South do you think history would have played out the same way??
posted by Carbolic at 8:19 PM on September 23, 2005

The nickname "Stars and Bars" is usually misapplied to the above and is more accurately given to The First National Flag . I've always considered this the subtle Southern pride flag, since most people don't recognize it for what it is and it doesn't incite the same reaction as the Battle flag or Naval Jack.

Thank you, Atriedes -- Iwas about to post my usual "The 'Stars and Bars' is not the battle flag" post here.

And incidentally, this Southerner agrees: If you're serious about Southern heritage and pride, and you're not a racist yahoo, then show that pride by flying the real Stars and Bars, the First National Flag. The battle flag/Naval Jack, or any similar flag with the St. Andrew's Cross-based design, is simply incendiary and offensive.
posted by Vidiot at 10:25 PM on September 23, 2005

Sully6: the worst of our nation (racism, Christian fundamentalism, poverty and ignorance)

The matter-of-fact way the writer labels Christian Fundamentalism as among the "worst" of our nation, sticks in my crawl in the same way that viewing the Confederate Flag pains many other people.

I'm not from the South, I don't fly the Confederate Flag, and if I owned a pickup truck I would not put a CF decal on it. But I am definitely setting myself up for a serious butt-kicking from the majority of MeFites, because I more easily identify with the "Southern attitude." That attitude is IMNSHO an embodiment of self-determination, independance, courage, patriotism, Judeo-Christian values. More than ever, the flag which causes so many to feel offense, by contrast stirs me in a positive way. Call me too young to know any better. Call me a redneck. If you can't take it anymore, call me a cab.

Compared to 99 percent of the earth's population I am not even close to being poor. America does have it's share of poor, that's the nature of things. There are many thousands of "newly minted" poor folks -- and they all used to live in New Orleans. But can we call them the "worst" of our nation, those who have been afflicted by tragedy? How about those who were poor before the rains came?

I am well-trained technically yet I'll admit I'm ignorant of many things, especially history, social-economics theory, political science, welding, the inner workings of a rotary-engine, anything to do with any kind of professional sports -- and lots more stuff. But does that ignorance make me the "worst" of our nation?

I'll admit and concede to being bigoted/racist when it comes to certain superficial things like skin color, accent, style of dress, mannerisms -- but I try to use my intellect to control that bigotry; sometimes my emotions win out over intellect, with an unfortunate derogatory epithet slipping out -- sometimes. When that happens, yep I'm a racist, I admit it, and I am definitely not proud of it. So maybe I am -- in that instance at least -- the "worst" of our nation.

On the other hand, I actively subscribe to certain other forms of "bigotry" which through practice and hard work I actually try to reinforce and seek to enhance. Examples of my self-proclaimed "bigotry" include: my complete lack of acceptance for people who practice violent and murderous religions (for example, Islamo-Fascists); people who seek to pollute and corrupt American cultural and moral traditions (such as gay activists who try to foist their lifestyles on the Boy Scouts); people who seek to politicize the deaths of our brave men and women in the armed services and who twist the outcomes of American military engagements (whether successful or not so successful) in order to slander the President or put down the USA in general. Against all such people I am proudly "bigoted".

I'm probably different in my views from most other posters here, and the way I view the CF almost certainly is opposite the majority. But, you asked and I answered, so don't take offense, just take it for what it's worth -- didly and squat.
posted by fuzzy_wuzzy at 2:45 AM on September 24, 2005

Teece, you might want to check this out.

Just out of curiosity, do y'all find that "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" elicits the same response as the stars and bars? If not, why?

Ob. disclosure: life-long southerner, but the only sticker on my pickup is an Apple logo.
posted by kimota at 9:35 AM on September 24, 2005

It's been over a century. Could we please, please, please stop fighting the Civil War?
posted by Sara Anne at 12:54 PM on September 24, 2005


posted by matteo at 4:36 PM on September 24, 2005

Just out of curiosity, do y'all find that "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" elicits the same response as the stars and bars? If not, why?

Here's a very in-depth analysis of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" that suggests it's an anti-war song.

The song sounds like it's from the Civil War, but The Band wrote it in the late 1960s. They did a great job setting the atmosphere of the song. And most of them are Canadians, fuhgettaboudit.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:48 PM on September 24, 2005

Response by poster: Your comments are all so useful. It's really made me re-think what the Confederate Flag symbolises. I will definitely print out this discussion and take it into work.
posted by AlliKat75 at 5:00 PM on September 24, 2005

I hope you're good at self-defense, then. good luck!
posted by matteo at 5:14 PM on September 24, 2005

kirkaracha: So it's OK for Canadians to wave the Confederate flag, then? (Actually, as I noted earlier, it's there in the background in interviews for the Last Waltz, a documentary of The Band's final performance. Was it any different for Tom Petty to fly it during a tour for Southern Accents, at least mostly a regional-roots concept album?) In any case, the Band guys were Canadians obsessed with southern music and culture, and the guy who sings the lead vocal on the song in question--Levon Helm--is from rural Arkansas (Marvell, near Helena, in Delta territory near the border with Miss.).
posted by raysmj at 5:56 PM on September 24, 2005

Huh? I don't see how you get that based on what I said about the flag. I just think it's interesting that a song that sounds so quintessentially American was recorded by Canadians.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:44 PM on September 24, 2005

OK, although, again, it wasn't a Canadian who sang the song. But frankly, I didn't get your interpretation from that page. "The Night" is an expression of enormous loss and suitably somber, but you're given no sense that Virgil knew what he was fighting for, except for home and kin. Slavery does not make its way into the song. And there is the Robertson comment on the page about hearing Levon's kin talk about how the South will rise again, etc. I'm quite sure he was more than up on the Lost Cause mythology (although, yes, it doesn't sound like the narrator wants to go back to fighting. On the other hand, he gets all misty at his wife's pointing out a man who may or may not have been Robert E. Lee. And the stuff about Robert E. Lee's having been anti-slavery is horseshit in that its irrelevant--Virgil wasn't all up on that, I'm guessing. And why did Robert go to war for Virginia and the South, if he was so darned anti-slavery?) The song is complex and ambiguous in certain respects, and you're reading into it what you choose. I see it as nothing more nor less than the result of a long obsession with southern culture, crossed with vaguely literary ambitions and influences. It's a little short story, a character study. It's surely not a grand anti-war statement, even if recorded at the height of the Vietnam conflict.
posted by raysmj at 7:20 PM on September 24, 2005

Oh, the author of the online piece does see the line with "taken the very best" as being anti-war, if not the whole song. But that's a debatable point, whatever. Just after that, he gets Levon's birthplace wrong (he couldn't have looked across the Miss. River from Helena and seen West Tenn. unless he had supernatural abilities or was a cyborg from the year 2075).
posted by raysmj at 7:55 PM on September 24, 2005

I just read the lyrics to "The Night", and despite growing up in the South, I can't say I'd ever even heard the song before. As a history student, the reference to Lee in Tennessee actually sort of bothered me. He mainly stayed holed up in Virginia in Lexington the last five years of his life. I'm not sure if he ever ventured west, since he was loathe to do so during the war, and only under order during his stay in the U.S. Army.

It doesn't really invoke anything in me, but then perhaps hearing the song does a lot more for someone other than reading the lyrics. I really enjoy hearing a slow rendition of "Dixie", but it was reappropiated by the U.S. at the end of the war, by Lincoln's opinion, so its just an American song....yeah, thats it.

Since someone brought up a song in comparison to how folks view the "Rebel Flag", I'd suggest watching "Gods and Generals" for the cinematic equivalent for modern times. Its the Lost Cause Rides Again.
posted by Atreides at 7:59 PM on September 24, 2005

raysmj, all I did was give a link to an analysis of the song. I didn't present an interpration, hypothesize about Virgil's motivations, or read anything into it. Perhaps you should email the author of the piece, instead of making up things to argue with me about.

And the reason I said "most of them are Canadians," is because I already knew that "it wasn't a Canadian who sang the song."
posted by kirkaracha at 11:32 PM on September 24, 2005

You didn't say it was interesting just because mostly Canadians did it, and you didn't say mostly the second time. What you did say is that we could forgetaboutit because the guys were mostly Canadian, which seemed quite odd to me. If it's a Lost Cause tribute, that doesn't let them off the hook, exactly. (I don't think it is that sort of song, it's too tragic, but the song certainly has Lost Cause elements tossed into the mix. But nationality shouldn't matter here.)

In any case, the fact that a southerner (to whatever apparently debatable degree the inspiration for the song) sang the song was rather essential, as the piece you linked correctly notes.
posted by raysmj at 7:37 AM on September 25, 2005

If slavery had served the economic interest of the North rather than the South - Though it did

1. "MYTH - The Confederate Battle Flag was flown on slave ships.

FACT - NONE of the flags of the Confederacy or Southern Nation ever flew over a slave ship. Nor did the South own or operate any slaves ships. The English, the Dutch and the Portugese brought slaves to this country, not the Southern Nation.

2. Surprisingly, to many history impaired individuals, most Union Generals and staff had slaves to serve them! William T. Sherman had many slaves that served him until well after the war was over and did not free them until late in 1865.

U.S. Grant also had several slaves, who were only freed after the 13th amendment in December of 1865. When asked why he didn't free his slaves earlier, Grant stated "Good help is so hard to come by these days."

Contrarily, Confederate General Robert E. Lee freed his slaves (which he never purchased - they were inherited) in 1862!!! Lee freed his slaves several years before the war was over, and considerably earlier than his Northern counterparts. And during the fierce early days of the war when the South was obliterating the Yankee armies!

Lastly, and most importantly, why did NORTHERN States outlaw slavery only AFTER the war was over? The so-called "Emancipation Proclamation" of Lincoln only gave freedom to slaves in the SOUTH! NOT in the North! This pecksniffery even went so far as to find the state of Delaware rejecting the 13th Amendment in December of 1865 and did not ratify it (13th Amendment / free the slaves) until 1901"
posted by thomcatspike at 2:28 PM on September 27, 2005

If only they'd hung Davis, Lee, all of them, like the traitors they were, maybe, just maybe, we wouldn't be here.

Worth asking why they didn't. How solid would the legal grounds have been? Nothing in the constitution forbade secession. (Still doesn't.) Could have been embarassing.

I sometimes wonder what Lincoln would have done if Fort Sumter had not been fired upon. There's a task for the counterfactuals!
posted by IndigoJones at 8:54 AM on September 28, 2005

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