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Is the Confederate Flag a Racist Symbol?

MW7

Joined
Jun 22, 2011
Location
Ohio
I've thought about this issue in the past, and yesterday I saw someone wearing a hat with the Confederate Flag so now it is stuck in my mind. I'm going to try to present both sides of the argument, but keep in mind that my gut response to the title of my post is a vehement yes so I'm very biased. I am very curious to see what other people have to say about this issue as well.

The Confederate flag is NOT a racist symbol arguments-
The Confederate flag is a symbol of Southern heritage and Southerners have a right to be proud of that heritage. The belief that the Confederate flag is a symbol of slavery is a common misconception. The Confederate flag continues to be a symbol for states' rights but was never intended to promote slavery.

The Confederate flag IS a racist symbol arguments- (Note that this is what I believe so obviously this side will be much more developed)
It does not matter that the intent of displaying the Confederate flag is racist or not. A great number of people instinctively feel threatened by the symbol because the fact is that it has a strong relationship to slavery in a vast number of people. It has to do with the schemas that people have about the flag. If you display the flag to people that think as I do and ask them to say the first thing that comes to mind, a very significant percent will say slavery and racism. Only the few people who deeply believe in Southern heritage connote positive things with the Confederate flag and would respond the South, states' rights, Southern heritage, etc. It does not matter that you think it is not racist; other people are offended by it so it's racist.

An example of what I'm talking about would be the manji. The manji is a symbol used in many Indian religions to mean good luck. The manji also happens to have been borrowed by the Nazis for use in their flag. The manji in a Nazi context is called the Swastika. Now everyone knows what the Nazis did to the Jewish people, and it's understandable that the Swastika is highly offensive to them. If someone displays the manji in a certain context(around people who are offended by it) with no ill intent, it can still offensive if it is interpreted as the Swastika. It would be ignorant to keep displaying the manji in front of people who are offended by it. The main difference I see is that the manji is not very common in the West and so there is not a whole lot of misinterpretation of it as a racist symbol since it is usually only seen in a religious context in India, China, etc. The Confederate flag is commonly displayed in front of people who might be offended by it. It is ignorant to display the Confederate flag because there are people who perceive it as a racist symbol or culturally insensitive.


Let me know what you think about this issue. I want to know if I overlooked arguments for either side (because I definitely did) especially.
 

Batman

Not all those who wander are lost...
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40 lights off the Galactic Rim
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Dan-kin
I would say yes. The flag is more than just a symbol of the south, but a symbol of the southern rebellion. And everyone knows the rebellion promoted slavery. So, in my eyes, the confederate flag represents a political movement that endorsed slavery and the cruel treatment of african american people.
 
Joined
Dec 12, 2010
I suppose there is a link between the two things. I think outside of the States the Confederate flag is probably more associated with Southern heritage than slavery and racism (although the stereotype of a Southern Hick well known, at least in Britain). Americans are probably more conscious of it.

As for your argument, it's certainly true that some people would see the flag as racist. But it's also true that some would see it as part of their heritage, and if somebody genuinely wished to display the flag I think it would be grossly inappropriate to tell them not to do so just because it would offend people. I mean you might have an argument where one group say "I'm offended!" and another go "Well it's our heritage." And that's just a stupid debate really. I could fully understand a black person walking into a town full of Confederate flags and feeling threatened. But there are many other situations where displaying it wouldn't be that bad (for example if a student at a college in New York put it up on his/her wall). In my opinion it's about context.

It's an interesting argument anyway because it's discussion a matter that is completely subjective. There are certainly places in India where the Swastika isn't a taboo symbol, but if anyone in the West wore a t-shirt with it on they would face all sorts of abuse (verbal and physical). One quote of yours I'll pick up on:

It is ignorant to display the Confederate flag because there are people who perceive it as a racist symbol or culturally insensitive.
One could equally argue that it is ignorant to be offended by a flag that represents a heritage and does not implicitly condone slavery. Added to that I'd say it's ignorant to be offended by anything so ridiculous. Be offended by actual racism, not a symbol that could stand for something else entirely.

And on an important note: the Confederate flag is infinitely more stylish than the Stars and Stripes. Just sayin'
 

Ariel

Think for yourself.
Joined
Jun 17, 2010
Location
Sydney, Australia
The confederate flag is a symbol of a historically racist people, and therefore, has racist connotations. But it is not exclusively racist.
 
Joined
Aug 7, 2008
I am from the south, and I think it is a not only a racist symbol but a treasonous one as well. Grits and bluegrass are part of southern heritage, but the confederate flag is a symbol of a movement to overthrow the U.S. Government. German people are rightly ashamed of the Nazi regime, and southern Americans should all be ashamed of the confederate movement. Being part of one's history is not the same as being part of one's heritage.

I usually do not make such points without offering more argument, but in this case, I think the motivation is fairly clear.
 

MW7

Joined
Jun 22, 2011
Location
Ohio
As for your argument, it's certainly true that some people would see the flag as racist. But it's also true that some would see it as part of their heritage, and if somebody genuinely wished to display the flag I think it would be grossly inappropriate to tell them not to do so just because it would offend people. I mean you might have an argument where one group say "I'm offended!" and another go "Well it's our heritage." And that's just a stupid debate really. I could fully understand a black person walking into a town full of Confederate flags and feeling threatened. But there are many other situations where displaying it wouldn't be that bad (for example if a student at a college in New York put it up on his/her wall). In my opinion it's about context.

One could equally argue that it is ignorant to be offended by a flag that represents a heritage and does not implicitly condone slavery. Added to that I'd say it's ignorant to be offended by anything so ridiculous. Be offended by actual racism, not a symbol that could stand for something else entirely.
Very interesting, I agree completely that the context plays a very big role. Also the part about being ignorant by being offended by the flag makes a lot of sense as well.

Basically what I can conclude from this is that in some scenarios displaying the Confederate flag could be morally wrong (dependent on the context), but there is nothing inherently wrong with displaying the flag. To be fair it could also be morally wrong to demand that someone stops displaying the flag just because you are offended by it.

Also I forgot to mention something I found in my research. I found it interesting that Germany outlawed the public showing of the swastika because of the connotations of Nazism and white supremacy. I think this is relevant because the Confederate flag has connotations of slavery, and slavery can be viewed as a form of white supremacy. Now obviously the United States is very attached to free speech so likely the Confederate flag would never be completely banned in America. I did read however that some private institutions such as universities have banned the flag.

Finally another thing I came across was that the Confederate flag is often used today as a symbol of the Klu Klux Klan and Neo-Nazis. So someone who displays the flag may intend to only support the South, but they would be using the same object that also represents a group promoting racial supremacy. I was pretty shocked when I found out these groups are still somewhat prevalent even today.
 

Hanyou

didn't build that
I am from the south, and I think it is a not only a racist symbol but a treasonous one as well. Grits and bluegrass are part of southern heritage, but the confederate flag is a symbol of a movement to overthrow the U.S. Government.
It was not a movement to overthrow the United States Government, any more than the (badly-named) American Revolution was a movement to overthrow the British government. The South's role in the Civil War was a claim for independence. You can disagree with it, you can say it was premised on slavery, but it was most certainly not intended to move aggressively against the United States government.

It was treason, but treason founded the United States; it's not inherently something to be ashamed of. We celebrate treason yearly in this country.

As for the motivation of the South, I think it's far too complex to chalk up entirely to slavery. No question that slavery was prominent in the nation's conscience at the time, and was a rallying cry for the Union--but I do not reduce the South's position to that issue. In the Civil War story, I actually favor the South, though I don't feel the need to explain my position in this thread.

I do not blame people for seeing things differently, though I dislike the disrespectful attitude toward the Confederacy. I especially don't blame people whose family members have suffered as slaves, who still bear slave names and thus still bear the scars of that awful institution. It's recent, and people can't be expected to get over it.

The reality is that symbols mean different things to different people, and I'm not going to dictate what the Confederate flag "should" mean. All I'll say is that anyone who reduces the thing to slavery is oversimplifying.
 
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Joined
Aug 7, 2008
It was not a movement to overthrow the United States Government, any more than the (badly-named) American Revolution was a movement to overthrow the British government. The South's role in the Civil War was a claim for independence. You can disagree with it, you can say it was premised on slavery, but it was most certainly not intended to move aggressively against the United States government.

It was treason, but treason founded the United States; it's not inherently something to be ashamed of. We celebrate treason yearly in this country.

As for the motivation of the South, I think it's far too complex to chalk up entirely to slavery. No question that slavery was prominent in the nation's conscience at the time, and was a rallying cry for the Union--but I do not reduce the South's position to that issue. In the Civil War story, I actually favor the South, though I don't feel the need to explain my position in this thread.

I do not blame people for seeing things differently, though I dislike the disrespectful attitude toward the Confederacy. I especially don't blame people whose family members have suffered as slaves, who still bear slave names and thus still bear the scars of that awful institution. It's recent, and people can't be expected to get over it.

The reality is that symbols mean different things to different people, and I'm not going to dictate what the Confederate flag "should" mean. All I'll say is that anyone who reduces the thing to slavery is oversimplifying.
You are correct in pointing out that my statement was too simplistic. While I agree that there are complexities, when it comes to politically and emotionally charged topics, sometimes the complexities can get lost. Unfortunately the emotions involved are not going to go away. Many symbols are associated with an ideology. Everyone is aware that the confederate flag is associated with a racist ideology. Anyone who displays the flag is aware of this connotation. Of course no symbol is intrinsically bad, and context matters. There is nothing wrong with using the confederate flag in Civil war reenactments for instance. I would not be offended in the home of a history enthusiast if I saw a confederate flag alongside other civil war memorabilia. In a lot of ways, the flag is a part of history. That same history is one of secession and slavery, two things which are frowned on in modern society. Anyone who displays the confederate flag without some explicit historical context is asking to be branded as a racist. I know that many who simply think the flag is a cool way of showing southern pride are not avowed racists; however, racism takes many forms. One does not have to be spitting out slurs to be a racist, and it is possible to have racist presuppositions and behaviors of which one is unaware and would change if they were pointed out.

I once brandished the confederate flag often when I was young as a way of showing my pride in being southern. Later I realized that there are other ways to do this which do not carry racist connotations.

Regarding the comments about treason, you are again correct. Revolutions are almost always justified in hindsight if they succeed but not if they fail. This is the nature of politics. Was the South morally justified in its revolution? In my opinion, no. Were the British Colonies morally justified in revolting to start a new country? This is a hard question people disagree on, but interestingly, I think the answer is also no.
 
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Joined
Dec 12, 2010
Some very intriguing responses.

Basically what I can conclude from this is that in some scenarios displaying the Confederate flag could be morally wrong (dependent on the context), but there is nothing inherently wrong with displaying the flag. To be fair it could also be morally wrong to demand that someone stops displaying the flag just because you are offended by it.

...Finally another thing I came across was that the Confederate flag is often used today as a symbol of the Klu Klux Klan and Neo-Nazis. So someone who displays the flag may intend to only support the South, but they would be using the same object that also represents a group promoting racial supremacy. I was pretty shocked when I found out these groups are still somewhat prevalent even today.
There is nothing immoral about displaying a flag. It might be socially inadvisable to display it depending on the context, but it's never immoral. I'm not being persnickety here - the distinction is of huge importance. As for telling someone they can't display a flag because you might be offended by it - that's immoral. You've no right to tell me what I can and can't hang from a flagpole. If you're offended don't look. People spend too much time being offended by trivia and not enough time being offended by important things.

Racism, Nationalism and Patriotism are closely intertwined. I'm not suggesting every Patriot is a racist, but they certainly lie on the same spectrum. As such Neo-Nazi groups often draw on national symbols. The BNP (British National Party) in the UK uses the Union Jack in their logo. As such there has been an increase in the stigma of the flag. If someone were to display an English or British flag at times other than when a significant sporting event was taking place you'd probably assume they were a racist (with some justification). But patriotism isn't that popular in Britain, so perhaps it's different for you Yanks.

It was not a movement to overthrow the United States Government, any more than the (badly-named) American Revolution was a movement to overthrow the British government. The South's role in the Civil War was a claim for independence. You can disagree with it, you can say it was premised on slavery, but it was most certainly not intended to move aggressively against the United States government.

The reality is that symbols mean different things to different people, and I'm not going to dictate what the Confederate flag "should" mean. All I'll say is that anyone who reduces the thing to slavery is oversimplifying.
True enough Hanyou, but you're wise enough to know that it doesn't matter what the issues actually are, it's what people believe they are. People believe the American Civil War was about slavery than that is what it will be about in popular consciousness. I agree with you entirely, and I think it certainly weakens the premise of anyone claiming to be offended by it, but in some respects it's a moot point. A lie can travel halfway round the world before the truth has time to get it's trousers on.

Anyone who displays the confederate flag without some explicit historical context is asking to be branded as a racist. I know that many who simply think the flag is a cool way of showing southern pride are not avowed racists; however, racism takes many forms. One does not have to be spitting out slurs to be a racist, and it is possible to have racist presuppositions and behaviors of which one is unaware and would change if they were pointed out.

I once brandished the confederate flag often when I was young as a way of showing my pride in being southern. Later I realized that there are other ways to do this which do not carry racist connotations.
Contrary to popular belief, it's not illegal to be racist. I'm not saying it's a smart point of view, or a logical one. But it's not illegal to be a Scientologist either (oh snap). It's illegal to discriminate due to racial reasons in a workplace and it's illegal to refuse service to someone on the grounds of race but it's not illegal to believe that white people are superior to black people. Or that Germans are better than Frenchmen. And that's as it should be. As long as you aren't harming anyone, threatening to harm someone or encouraging others to harm someone you can be as racist as you like. Although I fully understand why you'd want to abandon the association :P
 
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There's coloured folk down south wearing confederate T-shirts. It's not racist at all. It's more like a symbol to express your southern USA heritage.
 

MW7

Joined
Jun 22, 2011
Location
Ohio
There is nothing immoral about displaying a flag. It might be socially inadvisable to display it depending on the context, but it's never immoral. I'm not being persnickety here - the distinction is of huge importance. As for telling someone they can't display a flag because you might be offended by it - that's immoral. You've no right to tell me what I can and can't hang from a flagpole. If you're offended don't look. People spend too much time being offended by trivia and not enough time being offended by important things.
I agree that it is a huge difference between socially inadvisable and immoral, and I should have worded my first statement a little more clearly. I do still believe that it is possible for the displaying of the flag to be a moral issue. It is a stretch, but technically it could be a moral issue. I'm in a class on ethics right now, and I learned about six common ethical rationales: common good, care, virtue, rights, justice, and utilitarianism. Technically the displaying of the flag could be immoral under the common good or the ethic of care. The common good could be violated by displaying the flag because the flag may harm the development of community (since people might be offended). The ethic of care requires that a person be attentive to the particularities of context in their relationships. So if a person lives by this ethic of care and has a friend that says that he/she is offended by the flag, then the first person would be obligated to take down the flag because of the caring relationship he/she has with his/her friend. The first person would still have the right to keep the flag up, but in doing so, that person could be violating the ethic of care. Once again this is a stretch.
 
Joined
Dec 12, 2010
I agree that it is a huge difference between socially inadvisable and immoral, and I should have worded my first statement a little more clearly. I do still believe that it is possible for the displaying of the flag to be a moral issue. It is a stretch, but technically it could be a moral issue. I'm in a class on ethics right now, and I learned about six common ethical rationales: common good, care, virtue, rights, justice, and utilitarianism. Technically the displaying of the flag could be immoral under the common good or the ethic of care. The common good could be violated by displaying the flag because the flag may harm the development of community (since people might be offended). The ethic of care requires that a person be attentive to the particularities of context in their relationships. So if a person lives by this ethic of care and has a friend that says that he/she is offended by the flag, then the first person would be obligated to take down the flag because of the caring relationship he/she has with his/her friend. The first person would still have the right to keep the flag up, but in doing so, that person could be violating the ethic of care. Once again this is a stretch.
The trouble with that sort of argument is you could say much the thing about being forced to take the flag down. I'd take that line far more seriously - the culture of people being offended and expected to be taken really seriously. In the run up to Halloween a group of Ohio Students created a poster campaign with a a number of variations on the following:
halloween poster.jpg

When people are this sensitive the only response is to tell them where to go. It's wasted energy that could be spent on real problems.
 
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Even if it is not always meant as a racist symbol, people need to be careful and the swastika is a good, if more serious, example. However as Jimmy noted sensitivity can often go too far aswell, take this "racist" advert: [video=youtube;qxcvlskexzc]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxcvlskexzc[/video]

Anyone who understands cricket will know this is not in any way racist or offensive, but clearly an American saw the ad and automatically took it the wrong way.
 
I am a southerner as well, I can see how it could have such connotations but it isn't inherently racist. Like someone said, it's not just white people displaying it. I am a proudto be from The South myself but I do not have a confederate flag, no real reason why I just have never bought one but it's certainly crossed my mind. I will say I do not agree with the South's reasons for the Civil War but then again politically I am an oddity especially among a conservative south.
 

MW7

Joined
Jun 22, 2011
Location
Ohio
The trouble with that sort of argument is you could say much the thing about being forced to take the flag down. I'd take that line far more seriously - the culture of people being offended and expected to be taken really seriously. In the run up to Halloween a group of Ohio Students created a poster campaign with a a number of variations on the following:
View attachment 19146

When people are this sensitive the only response is to tell them where to go. It's wasted energy that could be spent on real problems.
Yeah what I mean is that there is a moral component to each side. I would agree that the rights of the person displaying the flag to keep it up are more compelling.
 

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