The Stars and Bars

Among the things going in the world while I was buried up to my eyebrows in trials was this bigot fellow sat down with the pastor and several members of the congregation at one of the most historically significant black churches in the United States, engaged in “bible study” with them for over an hour, and then shot nine of them dead, leaving two surviving for the express purpose of telling the world what he did.

This actually was a “hate crime,” if by that term you mean a crime whose underlying motive was animosity towards the victims based on something other than their actions or freely-chosen affiliations.  Like what happens to Jews all over Europe and elsewhere on a daily basis.  Like what happened to the manager of that French factory who got his head sawed off by one of his employees who propounds the Religion of Peace.  Like what happened to the dead and wounded at Fort Hood at the hands of a madman screaming Allahu Akbar! while gunning them down.

While the people of Charleston — a magical city where I was privileged to live for four years, many years ago — both black and white, showed the rest of the country how it’s done, in coming together in their grief, their outrage, and their demonstration of the very Christian virtue of forgiveness, the opportunity to strut and preen was just too tempting for the usual suspects.  Dear Leader of course chimes in on cue with the call to ignore that pesky ol’ Second Amendment, which he lards up with a slap at America and Americans.  “‘This kind of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries,’ the president said. ‘Wedon’t have all the facts but we do know that once again innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun.'”  Of course, this month Europe is observing the 20th anniversary of the massacres at Srebrenica.  We know Dear Leader can’t count (“all 57 states,” anyone?), but just to make it simple, this scum bag in Charleston gunned down nine people because of the color of their skin.  In Srebrenica they gunned down 8,000 men and boys because of how they worshipped.  Or how about the Christians paraded on the beach and then beheaded?  Remind me again how many that was?  Bit more than nine, as I recall.  And wasn’t it just recently that a satire magazine’s office in Paris got to experience some of that ol’ “workplace violence” courtesy of the Religion of Peace?  Twelve dead, weren’t there?

But back to the title of this post.  In the weeks since the Charleston shooting everyone and his cousin has been falling all over himself to expunge all traces of the Confederate flag from public spaces and even from commerce.  Apple, for example, has discontinued a video game app of Civil War combat . . . because the Confederate flag is depicted in it.  You don’t say?  Have they discontinued all the World War II games because you can see the insignia of Nazi Germany in them?  In South Carolina the (Republican-dominated) legislature voted massively to remove the flag from the state house, where (Democrat) governor Fritz Hollings put it in 1962.  Think about that:  The cradle of secession somehow managed to soldier along for nearly a full century without waving that flag.  Amazon and Wal-Mart do not sell merchandise depicting the Confederate flag any more. Around here where I live I can’t say that I’ve noticed either greater or lesser display of it (although I’d be guilty of over-statement to say that I’ve really been looking).

Certainly opinion in general on the flag and its symbolism doesn’t seem to have shifted much.  Fifteen years ago 59% of people surveyed (I think it was a Gallup poll, but don’t hold me to that) allowed that they did not perceive it as being principally a symbol of hatred.  In the aftermath of the Charleston shooting that’s down all the way . . . to 57%.  I suppose you can read that either of two ways: (i) Proof positive that America is an inherently racist country which isn’t willing even to give up the visible and historically undeniable symbolism of racial oppression and exploitation, or (ii) All this hand-wringing and posturing (see: Apple) is vastly over-blowing a non-issue.

I confess to ambivalent feelings about that flag.  As the reader of this blog will have observed, I’m not terribly apologetic about the South or being from the South.  I kinda like it here (as do the tens of thousands of my black fellow citizens who are moving here from the O! so Tolerant North).  So far as I know none of my Southern ancestors owned any slaves, and among my Yankee ancestors is at least one veteran of the Army of the Tennessee (excellent history of that amazing army here (I think, in fact, that my ancestor’s name even appears in it, but that’s not been confirmed); Victor Davis Hanson treats of the army’s march through Georgia in a wonderful book that — alas! — because it was borrowed, I had to return).

Did my Southern ancestors profit from the existence of chattel slavery in their society?  Well, possibly so, although I’d like to see someone try reliably to measure how much better off a small, non-slave-owning farmer in this part of the South really was because of slavery as such.  I will point this much out:  It wasn’t the destruction of slavery that wiped out such large swathes of Southerners, but the physical destruction of the war.  Before the war they’d been more or less scraping by; after the war the people whose homes and farms weren’t burnt to the ground were still more or less scraping by, and the ones whose homes and farms had gone up in smoke to make Sherman’s neck-ties were wiped out.  If slavery as such was that much the foundation of prosperity for any significant portion of the population, then you’d expect to see vastly more disruption just from abolition.

In point of fact at home I actually have a full-size, flyable (it’s of real bunting, with brass grommets) Stars and Bars.  Haven’t laid eyes on it since about 1991; it’s packed up in a box somewhere.  I have a print of a Civil War painting depicting fraternization between the lines (a genuinely common occurrence); back in the day I folded the flag carefully so a single star showed in the center, then draped it across the top of the picture frame.  So sue me.  So far as I know that flag has never actually flown or been displayed so as to be visible from outside the room where that picture was hanging.

Is it a symbol of hatred and oppression?  It sure is for some people, like that shit-bird in Charleston.  It sure is for American blacks (in contrast to that 57% figure cited above, something like 85%+ of blacks perceive it to be inherently a racist symbol), and understandably so.  I’m equally sure that for quite a number of people it symbolizes something else entirely.  That’s the thing about symbols:  The viewer reads into it what he chooses.  But mostly I’m sure that for millions of people the Stars and Bars is a whacking great pile of Get Over It Already.  Like me.  It is neither inherently racist nor inherently innocuous.

Should that flag be flown over public buildings?  I don’t think that’s appropriate, even if only for the fact that for so many of my fellow citizens it in fact does, and on legitimate basis, speak to them of racial hatred, oppression, and the entire sad story of what has happened through the years to the descendants of the Africans brought here in chains (although, irony alert! those descendants are pretty uniformly vastly better off in every material sense than the descendants of those Africans who captured their forebears and sold them into slavery).  As a government we are supposedly all for one and one for all; you shouldn’t knowingly and gratuitously offend 13% of your population.

On the other hand should all these private actors get all hyperventilated about rushing to expunge all traces of the flag?  Well, that’s their privilege, of course.  But it savors of more than just a tiny bit of moral posturing.  They were perfectly willing to deposit all those sales receipts for all those years, and somehow their black customers and their white customers always seemed to survive the trip up and down the aisles.  They’re perfectly willing to flog communist chic apparel (Che Guevara very intentionally had his office overlooking the execution yard so he would watch his victims being slaughtered day by day . . . his picture is very much still for sale on Amazon).  I’d be wiling to bet not a single World War II video game is going to be taken down at the Apple (or Google) store, just because there happens to be a swastika waving somewhere in the background.

I forget who it was who first pointed this out, or where I first ran across the observation, but it’s true, I think:  Much of political correctness is about permitting one group of white people to feel morally superior over other white people, and to parade that superiority as conspicuously as they can.

Seems to me that’s what’s going on here.

I’m not getting rid of my Confederate flag, and it can jolly well stay in that box in the attic.

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