Confederacy of Mendacious Defenders

by Shaker Anonymous

[Please note: I'm a longtime Shaker who has requested anonymity for this post because it discusses people close to me and I'd like to preserve the privacy of all involved.]

[Content Note: White supremacy, slavery, racist apologia, racial violence, dehumanization.]

The well-known "Confederate flag." This past week, the South Carolina legislature voted to remove this flag from SC capitol grounds. Make no mistake, that's progress of a sort as well as the right thing to do.

But in renewed discussion of white supremacy and its symbols in the wake of the racist massacre of nine people in a SC church last June 17, all the lies of the United States' white supremacist history were trotted out again—tropes, and tales, and rank racist horseshit usually kept in the background, used as dog whistles.

If you are on Facebook, or spend a good deal of time online, you may have seen many of the same terrible posts and images I have seen these past weeks, all meant to excuse or obfuscate the racism the Confederate flag represents and justify its continued display. What follows is a review of several of these posts, meant to expose a few of the more egregious examples of white supremacist thinking masquerading as simple history, or as satire, or as any one of a number of "correctives" to the idea that the Confederate flag is inherently racist.

I can't run through everything I've seen recently, such as a graphic chiding President Obama for asking that we not judge all Muslims for the acts of extremists while claiming he blames "all Southern Americans" for Dylann Roof's rampage. (First comment on that post? "That's because [Obama]'s not American." Oy.) A few examples will illustrate why I am so fucking angry that I needed to address this.

One Facebook contact of mine (who is white) said online that she could not understand how the Confederate flag "became" a symbol of racist hate when she didn't remember it that way from growing up in the South. This is the very definition of white privilege: The ability to remember an entirely different history and to elide contradictory information and events. (My response to her was that the flag did not "become" racist—it's always been.)

image of the Egyptian Pyramids, to which text has been added reading: 'When will we take down these monuments of slavery'

We see above a typical example of a meme around this issue, posted approvingly on Facebook and much "liked," clearly meant to be funny, or provocative, but just as clearly missing the point entirely. (And I've seen variations on this meme.) False equivalencies are, in fact, the most common form of justification for this racist flag, based on what I've run across in recent weeks. What follows is an example so awful it would be good for a laugh, were not the stakes so high for African-Americans, and for this country.

image containing four smaller images of a Che Guevara flag, a Black Panthers flag, an LGBT Pride flag, and the Confederate flag, with text reading: 'Ban all or none but not just one'

Someone really must tell me about the time a state legislature ordered the Black Panther's banner raised on state government grounds and protected its display by law. I'm having trouble remembering the details.

The two other excuses I wish to highlight are (1) the well-known "Confederate flag" is not the flag of the Confederate States of America, and (2) that the Confederate flag "means different things to different people."

As for point one, I was under this misapprehension. Now that that's been corrected (the popular flag is the Confederate battle flag, though later incorporated into the flag of the CSA) my response is: So what? Troops waging war on the USA to preserve slavery based on white supremacy carried this flag into battle. The flag's meaning remains clear.

Two, the idea that the flag's meaning is diverse, that it is fluid, is revisionist nonsense. It's no accident that the Confederate flag was hoisted above SC state grounds 54 years ago. As the racist institutions of the US (primarily in the South) began to lose court cases and at least some public support, this flag was revived as a symbol of white resistance. It's easy enough to find, as but one example, photos and film of 1960's governor of Alabama George Wallace crying "segregation forever" while the Confederate flag is nearby.

A relative on Facebook (a white male, like the overwhelming number of people I've seen engaging in this ahistorical hooey) tried desperately to make this point, that the Confederate flag "means different things," and tried to turn it into some sort of philosophical misunderstanding. But semiotics this ain't. I simply replied, "Black people don't have the luxury of your distance."

Every country has its nationalist strain, its cherished myths, its desire not to be seen as terrible, or full of terrible people. Of course, this is also true here in the US. It is human nature that some people want to disassociate themselves from a symbol that is racist. But claiming that the symbol's meaning is somehow lost to time, or clouded, or just so very complicated when there's plenty of proof otherwise (including the Civil War, Jim Crow, and much too much more) is patent bullshit. Symbols have meanings that do not change just because some white dudes (and, really, that's the most vocal group—a group of which I am myself a member) say the meaning has changed.

With the reaction in some quarters to the very idea that the Confederate flag is blatantly racist, I see how far we are from an honest conversation about our racist past, let alone our troubled present. And we won't have the latter without the former.

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