The Confederate Flag – and Identity

The Confederate Flag – and Identity June 23, 2015

“Identity” — that’s the word of the day, isn’t it?  Jenner identifying as a woman.  Dolezal as black.  Lots of people yammering on about their identities, in some manner or another.

In the meantime, the consensus has very quickly formed that the Confederate flag should be removed from, well, its official spot in South Carolina, for one.  Did Amazon, ebay, Walmart, etc., likewise make the right call in their announcements that they’d cease selling items with the flag on them, or did they just fear backlash?

Now, look, I don’t have a dog in this fight.  I’m not from the South, nor do I have any connection to the South except for having loved Gone With the Wind as a middle-schooler, and a great-great-grandmother who died young and without any more than a mention in the census records, so she’s a dead end in our ancestry research.  And, of course, I’m not the descendant of slaves, unless you go back a millennium or two.  It’s also the case that no one has yet invented an offense-o-meter to judge just how honest people are being when they say that the Stars and Bars causes them pain, vs. seeing a good opportunity to further a political cause.   From what I can tell, it is appropriate to eliminate official recognition of the Stars & Bars, but I don’t really have a strong opinion on whether any existence of the flag image should be made wholly taboo.

But it strikes me that this is as much about Southern identity as anything.  Yes, the Charleston shooter draped himself in the Confederate flag, and, yes, it’s long been the symbol of segregationists, both in the era of Jim Crow when they were quite open about rejecting integration, and now, when they’re much fewer in number and more hidden.  And yes, one could say the entire history of the South is similarly tainted by its history of slavery, discrimination, and segregation.

But — heck, I grew up watching the Dukes of Hazard; the General Lee was the name of the Duke cousins’ car before I had any idea of the historical significance if its namesake.  And I know that Southerners, at least many of them, think of themselves as having a special culture, a Southern Identity, and I imagine that, most of the time, they use the flag with the intent of symbolizing not racism but Southernness, not that different from Bavarians flying the Bavarian flag with more enthusiasm than the German flag, and wearing lederhosen and dirndls at Oktoberfest.

Now maybe the follow-up statement is then “well, Southernness, in general, is tainted by racism.”  But then what?  Are Southerners to be forbidden from thinking of there being such a thing as “Southern culture” with “y’all” and sweet tea and whatever else it is that constitutes it, because of this legacy?

Where I’m going with this I don’t really know, except that everyone’s now so busy talking about how important it is to everyone to Have an Identity, but — well, anyway, that’s as far as I’m going to take this, lest I get myself into trouble by not really knowing what I’m talking about.

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