The southern side of the confederate flag discussion
June 23, 2015 8:24 AM   Subscribe

Could you point me to well-articulated discussions supporting the confederate flag? It's sounding like the statehouse flag in SC is likely to come down, but I'm interested to hear the voices on the other side of the issue, such as newspaper editorials or blog posts, especially current ones.

There are some interesting bits along these lines in this thread.
posted by spbmp to Law & Government (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know if this is what you have in mind, but this comment quoted a piece of descriptive writing that rang very true for me as someone who grew up down South.

I'm very embarrassed to admit it was a surprise to me after I grew up to learn that some people found the Confederate flag offensive, that it had something, everything, to do with race -- it never seemed that way to me as an ignorant child. A lot of people, unfortunately, never get out of the ignorant child stage.
posted by JanetLand at 8:42 AM on June 23, 2015 [6 favorites]

I grew up in the deep south. Lots of people fly the confederate flag (and usually call it the rebel flag, which distances it even more from being political and lends it a certain panache) or plaster it on their cars/hats/t-shirts/etc.

Plenty of them are the horrible racist southerner stereotype.

But there are also a lot of seemingly reasonable people who stick the rebel flag on things. These people, largely, enjoy identifying as "southern" for whatever reason of belonging it provides them and want to celebrate the fact that they have southern heritage. Usually these people reside in a perfect storm of having no non-white friends and not thinking very deeply about things in general.

Sorry, I don't have any links for you. But I grew up with this around me and have never once heard or read a cogent argument that doesn't crumble to pieces in the face of the flag's undeniably racist origins. Defenders of the flag will simply dig in their heels and dredge up irrelevant history.

It's worth noting also that most southerners honestly don't realize the Civil War was about slavery. Slavery or the threat of it ending was never, ever mentioned as a cause for the war in history classes. Slavery is often just swept aside as an "also ran" factoid of the time period. It's always taught that the Civil War was fundamentally an issue of the south wanting to protect states' rights and different economic goals. Lack of unbiased education about actual southern history is a very real problem contributing to the ongoing flag argument. Many southers really and truly just do not know.
posted by phunniemee at 8:48 AM on June 23, 2015 [30 favorites]

I can attest that I've had the discussion with a white southern student who literally would not concede that the flag had anything to do with race or that it could even be perceived that way. He felt it was about heritage and pride, and made much of the fact that apparently there are some black southerners who like the flag (so he said), etc. The idea that the war was about slavery was a northern, outsider lie, and the idea that the flag is a racist symbol was a myth, spread by outsiders who just don't understand its true meaning, or what the south is really about, according to him. This was a person who was born in probably 1990. Even if you could find well-reasoned arguments, they'll likely be starting from premises that are (IMO) obviously false.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:28 AM on June 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Here's the official statement from the "Sons of Confederate Veterans" about the terrorist attack.
posted by Poldo at 9:55 AM on June 23, 2015

2013 BBC article here. (I never realized The Dukes of Hazzard was watched in the UK.)

The third post down here by C.M. Latsha is a moderate opinion.
posted by Beti at 10:01 AM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

A post about this actually came up in my facebook feed. I don't know the person, it's a friend of a friend type of thing and I didn't have the option of replying. Although not really well-reasoned ('It's just memorabilia') I was genuinely shocked and have been stewing about it all day. It got 46 shares so far. I hope it's ok to post here:
As much as I have posted in support of the families and Church after the Wednesday killings, I must also post about a disturbing dynamic: Some taking advantage of the tragedy for political agenda. First, is the inevitable blaming of the 2nd Amendment rights, with call for gun control. In disregard of the mourning process and the fact that virtually all South Carolinians stand with the victims' families whether gun owners or not. It is the same for those using this mourning period to wipe clean any remembrance of those who fought for South Carolina from 1861 to 1865. The defacing of the defenders memorial at the battery is a travesty. The descendants of those defenders (like me, as my great, great grandfather spent almost 4 years assigned to the coastal artillery in Charleston during that war) also support the victims and families. Additionally, in my opinion, this is not the time to push to get rid of the flag on statehouse grounds. Memorabilia of those who fought for the state did not cause this, any more than the 2nd Amendment. Let's focus on the healing process and not political advantage while we are all in support and prayers for the families. Okay, off to bed, and no more political statements about this tragedy. Prayers are with the families.
posted by maggiemaggie at 10:05 AM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have a former co-worker who is like this. She wouldn't call herself racist, but I saw a picture of the Confederate Flag on her Facebook wall the other day and my eyes bugged out slightly, but I wasn't too surprised to see it there. She's super conservative, and a die-hard Southerner, but very much in the vein of sweet tea/grits/guns/God.

She wouldn't call herself racist, and has called out very obvious racism. But she has a hard time seeing the flag as racist. She's been really supportive of the victims, though, and wanting them to be remembered instead of the perpetrator. But she's been uncharacteristically mum on the whole flag issue--I think she's pretty torn up about it.
posted by PearlRose at 10:24 AM on June 23, 2015

Even the very conservative Heritage Foundation now concedes that slavery was the primary cause of secession.
posted by mareli at 10:31 AM on June 23, 2015 [6 favorites]

NPR spoke to an historian today on this issue.

It seems folks who opposed federal intervention during the Civil Rights Movement took up the flag while opposing integration, instigating or reifying the association of the flag with racism.
posted by vitabellosi at 1:21 PM on June 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

FWIW, it's not just southerners who were misinformed in school about the causes of the Civil War. I grew up in the Northeast, and we were also taught in school that the Civil War was based on some vague idea of economics and tariffs, with slavery just being a small part of that. Begs the question in a rather dramatic way, of course, but this was the curriculum in a liberal section of the northeast.
posted by holborne at 1:37 PM on June 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

As a native (white) southerner, I think a good number of white southerners associate it with regional/family pride and remembering the fallen, and do not view it as a racist symbol (in spite of the real and perceived associations it has for others). (The SCV statement linked above is a good example.) Obviously these sort of associations are getting weaker; back in the 1980's or so you had older people who remembered their grandparents who were Civil War veterans. Also, you still see historic markers of where the Yankees burned such-and-such building, or this building was the only one to survive the war, so there is kind of an awareness of the Civil War as a time when "we" were invaded. Most white southerners did not own slaves so there must have been factors other than perpetuating slavery (conscription, regional loyalty, defense of their homes) that caused men to fight for the south.
posted by tracer at 1:44 PM on June 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

The whole concept of the confederate flag as a symbol of heritage and honoring history comes from the narrative that emerged during the Reconstruction. The government, in an effort to try and make a sort of peace between the North and South after the Civil War, created this idea that everyone in the war had fought and died for a cause, that the southern effort was as noble cause as any, about "state's rights and freedom" and not about the real issue. Things like allowing confederate military cemeteries complete with monuments helped to solidify this notion of 'just cause' and the honorable deaths of confederate soldiers. You might want to check out Foner's seminal book on Reconstruction.

The revival of the confederate flag as a symbol during the 20th century is really only of the many manifestations of what amounts to slavery apologetics by couching confederate pride in a blanket of "heritage" and "memorialization."
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:55 PM on June 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

There's a book (which I can't remember the title of, dammit!) about how many of the people who fought for the south in the civil war did so merely because their state was being invaded by the North. Historian Shelby Foote echoes that in this Atlantic article:

"There's a great deal of misunderstanding about the Confederacy, the Confederate flag, slavery, the whole thing. The political correctness of today is no way to look at the middle of the nineteenth century. The Confederates fought for some substantially good things. States rights is not just a theoretical excuse for oppressing people. You have to understand that the raggedy Confederate soldier who owned no slaves and probably couldn't even read the Constitution, let alone understand it, when he was captured by Union soldiers and asked, What are you fighting for? replied, I'm fighting because you're down here."

Whatever South Carolina decides, at this point it seems like there are better ways to honor one's fallen ancestors than with a confederate flag.

The negative part of this debate is that it has completely pushed gun control out of the discussion. The NRA must be thrilled.
posted by mulcahy at 5:54 PM on June 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

There's an excellent episode of BackStory that briefly deals with some of these issues, including a deconstruction of some of the "just heritage" arguments done with grace and empathy.
posted by alycoop at 8:09 PM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all. Here's an interesting psychological explanation I ran into, which I think complements the other comments here, coming from an unusual angle. It discusses how a symbol like the flag creates a sense of permanence and comfort that relates to the anxiety of a person's mortality. (Threatening a valued symbol arouses concerns about mortality, and concern about mortality increase attachment to divisive symbology.)

I won't single out a best answer, because I think the landscape of answers as a whole best answers my request!
posted by spbmp at 7:26 PM on June 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

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