Coates, With An Appeal To Hitchens, On The Confederate Flag

What to make of those in the south who claim the Confederate flag as part of a properly American southern heritage?  Ta-Nehisi Coates is eloquent:

But people can fly the Confederate Flag and have a serious, evidently credible argument, about its “precise meaning,” mostly because of a long historical fight to make the Civil War, and hence its symbols, about something other than slavery.  Again, there’s a reason we don’t think of Abraham Lincoln as being murdered by a white supremacist. There’s a reason why we sing “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” instead of, say, “The Night They Drove Fort Pillow Down.”

Formulating the question as “Is Lynyrd Skynyrd racist?” or “Are people who fly the Confederate flag racist?” or “Can you fly the flag and be progressive?” misses the point. The better question is posed to the young man, or woman, who would fly the flag today. Simply put, it’s “How well do you know the history of the symbols you claim?” It really is that simple. It’s not “Are you a racist?” it’s “Are you conscious?” Christopher Hitchens says it well:

The political flag of the Confederacy–the so-called “Stars and Bars”–is one thing. The battle flag of the Confederate army, the most militant symbolic form that secession and slavery ever took, is quite another. Under this fiery cross of St. Andrew, the state of Pennsylvania was invaded and free Americans were rounded up and re-enslaved. Under this same cross, it was announced that any Union officer commanding freed-slave soldiers, or any of his men, would be executed if captured. (In other words, war crimes were boasted of in advance.) The 13 stars of the same flag include stars for two states–Kentucky and Missouri–that never did secede, and they thus express a clear ambition to conquer free and independent states.

Perhaps the proverbial young person is indeed conscious, and does know the history. But when I hear them claim that they are “co-opting” the flag, I think probably not.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Keith

    I agree, especially with the final paragraph.


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