To mark the one-year anniversary of a reprehensible rally in Charlottesville, Va., that killed one and wounded dozens, white supremacist groups are gathering in Washington, D.C to spew even more hate.
Organizers have changed at least one strategy since last year’s bloodshed. This time, white supremacist organizers will not allow members to carry the Nazi flag. Only the Confederate and American flags will be permitted. As a Southerner, this sent a chill down my spine.
As they march on Sunday, we must remember two important things.
First, Swastika or no: this is a deeply anti-Semitic movement. Last year, young white men carrying torches chanted “Jews will not replace us” outside a Charlottesville synagogue. Violence against the Jewish community has risen under a President who equates Nazis who marched in Charlottesville with counter protestors.
Second, Unite the Right organizers observe that the Confederate flag offends fewer Americans than the Nazi flag and they may be right. White Americans do not know their own history.
The Stars and Bars flag flown by white supremacist groups was never the official flag of the Confederacy. It was the battle flag of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. In 1948, it was chosen to represent the newly formed States Rights Democratic or “Dixiecrat” Party formed by segregationists to maintain Jim Crow laws in the face of possible intervention by the federal government. In 1956, my home state of Georgia adopted its version of the flag in defiance of the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of school desegregation. The flag has always promoted white supremacy.The so called “Alt-Right” calculates that Americans find it easy to see Germany’s failure but not our own. We white Americans prefer instead to see ourselves as heroes who liberated Europe from tyranny. Our failure to scrutinize our own history is to leave ourselves open to tyranny here in America. To not know history is to repeat it.
The Nazi flag sought to build an autocratic white supremacist nation on the ideology that Germans were superior. It enshrined this ideology in laws that deprived all others of their rights, their humanity, eventually their lives. Nazi’s were inspired by our racist legal system.
The Confederate flag also sought to enshrine white superiority and the institution of slavery in the form of Jim Crow laws which prevented blacks from benefiting from freedom of movement, equal protection under the law, equal access to education, the right to vote. While Jim Crow laws were struck down in my father’s generation, today they continue under a host of new laws meant to enforce white power. What Michelle Alexander and others call a “new Jim Crow” is a broken criminal justice system, schools re-segregated after legislative changes in the eighties, the passage of voting restrictions meant to disenfranchise people of color, police brutality, and wage gaps.
As we watch the Confederate flag fly in front of the White House on Sunday, we know that despite Alt-Right smoke and mirrors the Nazi flag hangs right there alongside of it in history.
I say this as one who loves being a Southerner. The same flag I condemn today hung above the crib of my baby brother because my dad was a proud Southerner and “the colors looked nice.” And for them, and many southerners, all that they mean by it is being proud of their home. But this flag intends nothing less than the subjugation and destruction of black, brown and Jewish bodies. The flag is our shame, not our pride. We must educate ourselves and our children about its history. We must not glory in our shame.