Rebel flag

I’m taking an anthropology class at the moment, and today after watching a documentary on race the subject of the Confederate flag (which appeared in said documentary) was brought up. SCAD being in Georgia, there were a good number of Southerners in the class, mostly from Georgia and South Carolina. Mostly they seemed to see the flag as outdated and meaningless – a sort of sad vestige of something that people should have let go of. One guy said that he associated it with “country bumpkins” more than with racial hate; another girl said that she had moved out into the country some time ago, where seeing the flag on t-shirts was pretty commonplace. She was pissed off with people who wore it and claimed it as a badge of heritage when they didn’t actually pay any attention to their ancestry, or understand fully what it meant. Someone brought up the fact that as recently as the 1970s there had been a racially motivated lynching in Atlanta. Who cares about some flag when there’s actual hate crimes in the world? Basically there was a general feeling of sort of bewilderment, ambivalence, and disgust.

Symbols can be really powerful things, but it’s surprisingly simple to suit them to whatever purpose they’re wanted for. Dealing with the Confederate flag in the context of the comic, it’s easy enough to take it down to the battlefield level, where it’s just a Northern flag versus a Southern one. Suddenly seeing it plastered all over screenshots of a white supremacist website in that documentary was an unpleasant reminder of the rest of its associations. I guess it was encouraging to hear classmates from the South viewing the flag as irrelevant. Better that than the alternative.

There’s tons more to say on the subject, especially where it relates to reenactment, but I’m sure I don’t have words for half of it. Being from Oregon (gasp! how could you tell? certainly not that 50-comment thread over there… :P) we’re both outsiders to a lot of this. I haven’t even got a family story like Hailey to attach me to any of it. That said, I just thought I’d throw this out there, as it was bound to come up eventually. Any thoughts are welcome.

Discussion (14)¬

  1. Liris says:

    As a Northerner raised in the South, I like to think that I come from a neutral background, though that is likely incorrect as more recently I tend to bias towards the Southern side. In my opinion, the Confederate flag is a symbol of those people willing to fight for their (Constitutional) right to secede from a federal government that they felt impinge on their rights as citizens. To them, the flag was their version of the Stars and Stripes that the men of the American Revolution flew.

    Unfortunately, the symbol was appropriated by white supremacists, who distorted what the War of Southern Independence (oh, there goes my neutrality) meant. I mean, seriously, look at the rest of Europe who all managed to abolish slavery without a war. The war wasn’t about slavery or race. But those darn white supremacists made it so, and now southerners who support states’ rights and want to fly the flag that used to be symbolic of that are viewed as racist bigots.

    Umm…yah, sorry about the rant. I, uh, really like the comic. I only just found it actually, which is why this is the first time I comment on anything. Keep up the good work!

    • Emily says:

      Amen. You’ve hit the nail on the head. Historically it has nothing to do with race and everything to do with the Fed impinging on the Southerners Constitutional rights.

  2. Katherine says:

    But! If there were eleven Confederate States, why are there thirteen stars on the flag?
    (I completely stole this question from my history nerd friend.)

  3. Steph says:

    Symbols are tricky things. It’s amazing to see how they can mean such different things to different people, and how we use them strengthens some meanings and makes others irrelevant. Present meanings are generally easy enough to pick up on, but history is important, too, so that we understand how things got here. From that point we can choose a stance about what is or isn’t an appropriate way to use symbols, instead of being moved by circumstances. Context is important, and the flexibility to see life through the eyes of others in and outside our own time period.
    I thought this post was going to be another fun comic, and did not imagine I would find such a significant blog post. Everywhere I go I am almost always, always a lurker, but I wanted to say that I appreciate that you’re engaging with what your comic brings into play, and not treating this platform as flippantly as you could. There’s nothing wrong with lighthearted comics, but posts like these deserve respect.

  4. Cheryl says:

    It’s not even the official flag of the CSA. From Wikipedia:

    What is now often called “The Confederate Flag” or “The Confederate Battle Flag” (actually a combination of the battle flag’s colors with the Second Navy Jack’s design), despite its never having historically represented the CSA as a nation, has become a widely recognized symbol of the South. It is also called the “rebel” or “Dixie” flag, and is often incorrectly referred to as the “Stars and Bars” (the actual “Stars and Bars” is the First National Flag, which used an entirely different design).

  5. Jess says:

    For me, The American Flag represents the sum of the country’s history. It includes the wars, the culture and the ideals of the people that claim that specific flag. As a person raised in the South, the Confederate flag is a symbol of Southern history. It is outdated, but I still feel like it should be respected. My ancestors believed in the South, and fought to maintain a specific kind of culture. I might not agree, but I can’t argue with what they choose to believe in, and I can’t argue with the symbol of their ideology. It is a shame that the Confederate Flag is now used as a symbol of bigotry, or that it is seen as meaningless.

  6. Marcus says:

    I’ve never considered that the Southern flag would have been used as a White Supremecist symbol, I always viewed it as a country bumbkin ‘the south will rise again’ seperatist thing, however I haven’t lived in America for as long as I can remember [Over here we generally have the Swastica or the old german Reichsflag being used by white supremacists]

  7. Tig says:

    What Liris said.

    Only I’m a southerner raised in the north… *grin*

  8. Kelly Anne says:

    I’m a Southerner (Tennessean on one side, North Carolinian on the other) and most of my family lives in those states. I was, however, raised in Northern Virginia (and if you think of Virginia as the South, you’re mostly right, only where I live is for all intents and purposes Washington, D.C. and–believe you me–NOT the South). So I’ve got a sort of dual perspective. All of my ancestors fought for the South in the War, and of those who didn’t fight some managed to do spectacularly stupid things, such as the great-great-great-great something who set fire to the family’s crops so the Northern troops couldn’t have them, then–what d’ya know–the North never showed.

    I have always seen the Confederate flag as more of a representation of the way things once were than a symbol of any kind of supremacy, although I can certainly see the connotations. Personally, I don’t have a problem with the flag, so long as it is displayed or flown with and BENEATH the American flag. Actually, I take greater issue with the fact that Route 95 in Virginia is “Jefferson Davis Highway,” but again, that’s a personal thing.

    Am I making sense? I’m sorry, I’m on my 4th day of sick. Incoherency has become my M.O.

    (Randomly, on the subject of the North, the South, and separatists, Northern VA frequently attempts to secede from the rest of VA in an attempt to prove just how not-Southern it is, although the big reason has to do with tax dollas. Still: irony.)

  9. Ellaanabeth says:

    This particular line of thinking has made me think about my grandfather. Anyone ever hear of the Hatfields and the McCoys? Yeah…my grandfather was a McCoy. So hearing about the controversy about the confederate flag immediately makes me think about family feudes. Even though intellectually, I understand the flag is supposed to represent negative things to me (what with my not being even half white) I also see something that represents a non-violent way to express someone’s opinions. After growing up with bedtime horror stories courtesty of my late-grandfather on the various things done during the Hatfields VS McCoy feudes, the idea of people being offended by a piece of cloth is ridiculous. If you really question people who are so outraged by the confederate flag, if you dig deep enough, it’s that they’re offended by the people BEHIND the flag. So yeah, if you’ve got some loudmouthed violent guy with a gun and a history of joining the annual KKK picnic group, I can understand being offended, especially if they’re personally infringing on your rights. But I also see how horrible it is when those people have that flag are also the ones being harassed by people who think they’re better than them.

    …sorry about the rambling there. *grin*

  10. Gato says:

    It’s been really interesting reading all of these responses- it wasn’t at all what I expected to hear, and has shown me a side I didn’t realize was so prevalent, especially from people with roots in the South.

    I find it interesting that unlike so many people who see the positive side of the confederate flag, my gut reaction is almost always to view it as a symbol of pro white-supremacy unless displayed in a historical context. Maybe this has to do with the fact I’m a straight-up Northerner, or because I feel particularly sensitive towards issues of white-supremacy/hate crimes. Considering all of the thoughtful, meaningful reasons the people here have to support and respect the flag, it now makes me sad that that’s my first reaction. I think I get it a little more that people are upset that a historic symbol and a symbol of Southern pride has been co-opted for a hateful message.

    On the other hand, I don’t think it’s a good idea to ignore the new meaning a symbol has taken on. Even if a symbol has been co-opted to mean something it was never originally intended to, the fact remains that the new meaning is still linked to the symbol. I don’t think it’s so simple to divorce the ideology and the people from the symbol they have chosen to represent themselves with. The example of the swastika has been brought up, and even with the various alternate historical uses (in Africa to represent friendship in, as a Buddhist symbol in various Asian countries, etc.), there is still a lot of hate bound up in the symbol itself. That’s why one must use symbols carefully. I think it’s great to try to take back a symbol, but one should be sensitive that the symbol still is a source of pain to a great number of people.

    (also sorry for the long post )

  11. Allen says:

    As I drive by its birthplace on a daily basis I find that such a symbol started with a group of men trying to garner a little order from chaos. Since friendly fire isn’t, after the Battle of first Manassas (Bull Run to you northern folks) Generals P.G.T. Beauregard and his command met to come up with a flag that units can carry so they can easily distinguish them from their northern counterparts.

  12. Eddie says:

    Being a History major, my love of study was military history. Why people would want to wear a battle flag, such as the stars and bars as some call them is beyond me. This flag represents vilent uprising against the US of A, and is not the national flag of the Confederacy at all. If you go to a museum, you will see many different flags representing the South, but if my memory is correct the national flag of the South was something like but not identical to the flag of Texas. It has been a lot of years since I studied this stuff, but I think that’s right. Mainly the stars and bars are a symbol of racial haterd and persecution, not only against blacks, but Jews Catholics, and everyone who supports them. It is also the only flag of a defeated nation that is still allowed to be displayed as far as I know. As far as reenactments go it’s fine, but otherwise I think they should be banned from state flags and other purposes. Just my opinion, and if you wish to expunge this comment I won’t blame you.