Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Look Away

The Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter that hoisted that gigantic Confederate flag in Tampa, Florida is about to get its 15 minutes of fame extended. That 60x90 foot symbol of repression and slavery is going to be flying during the Super Bowl week.
"We fly it so we can explain it" said one SCV member when asked by the press what the motives are in this endeavor. Does that explanation include a discussion of slavery in the United States and its primary role in Southern secession and Civil War?
There is no small amount of irony that this flag was made in China. Whenever the relationship of forced labor and this flag is presented, the SCV tries to separate the two as much as possible. Given that denial, you would think they might want to demonstrate how this flag was made by well-paid, fairly-treated workers, perhaps from the region it represented.
There's just so much wrong about this flag and its display in this manner. The one thing that is not wrong is the group's right to fly it. They have the same freedom to fly it as I have to rip them for being disingenuous in their motives and ignorant of the fact that this flag has many meanings to many people. It may represent some Lost Cause apologia to some, but that doesn't give them the monopoly on symbolism. To millions of others this flag, and other flags of the Confederacy, represent a society built upon the enslavement of others and a rebellion fomented to protect that institution.
We've come so far as a country and the last few months have brought such a sense of pride and energy despite the challenges we face. This flag display could be a detractor, but I say we just leave these agitators in the dust behind us as we move forward. "What they are talking about does not represent the values of Hillsborough County," said Curtis Stokes, the president of the Hillsborough County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "All they want is publicity."
He's right, just absolutely right. While we can't take the flag down and most of the people who helped raise this one are unlikely to extend their worldview, we can turn away, drive away, walk away back to our communities where the values behind this flag have no foothold.


Anonymous said...

Hi Mark,

I think you hit home the fact that there are many problems with this "exhibitionism."

"We fly it so we can explain it." Explain what? The pains that go with symbolism? The reflective ignorance of flying a rectangular Confederate flag deep in the heart of a region that is quite familiar with segregation? Talk about total inconsideration.

Like both Kevin and I have said time and time again, the S.C.V. should have never allowed this to happen. They should be doing all that they can to distance themselves from imagery that is more reflective of segregation than the Confederate soldier.

The display of the rectangular flag is a reflection of self-centeredness and shows total ignorance of the complexities of all that view that particular flag. "User-centered" design was obviously not a consideration in putting this flag in place. "Imagined" and "re-invented" historical memory is an tasteless platform considering the many people who are alive with real and living memory of the age of segregation.

Furthermore, like I've said before in regard to the way new era Confederate remembrance is conducted, this is nothing more than gaudy exhibitionism done in poor taste and is a mockery of the integrity that remained in the common dirt farmer turned Confederate soldier, when he walked off the field for the last time. It shames the Confederate soldier far more than honors him. There is something to be said for the courage and bravery of the Confederate soldier on many battlefields, but a big 'ol flag on a big ol' pole is not the way to say it.

The irony of this flag being made in China just adds a very ironic and peculiar icing to the cake.

We can't make it come down, but we sure can voice our thoughts about the many ways that this exhbitionism is a blight over the landscape and the diverse people who live in it.

Anonymous said...

Hi again Mark,

Forgive me if your post led me down "rant alley." The Tampa flag issue obviously annoys me.

I appreciate your mentioning that you value my insight on the issue.

As I've mentioned, I embrace what is ultimately a robust and more complete understanding of my Confederate ancestry and can appreciate the courage, bravery, and sacrifices those men made. Yet, I don't get crazy and feel the urge to march around with a Confederate flag and paste stickers with it all over my vehicles. Nor am I swept in by the mythology (from the past or re-invented in modern times) that actually does more to distort reflections on the past than contribute to a better understanding. For a number of reasons, over the past five years or so, I feel I've been able to better grasp some rather complex issues that surround the way we reflect on the past and individuals who lived in times outside our "living memory."

Because I am able to appreciate the sacrifices made by men who served in the Confederate army (willing and/or unwilling), I see the Tampa flag thing as far more of an insult and slap to them than anything that comes close to thoughtful (in more ways than one) and realistic reflection on the past. More importantly the flag is not at all anything close to a conscious display of awareness as to how "history" can hurt.

I've heard the arguments before that the rectangular Confederate flag (aka "naval jack") is an accurate flag of the Confederacy, but that is a poor and pathetic argument to make when it is more obvious that this particular flag is more painful as an object of reflection than one of "remembrance." Frankly, any Confederate flag could be considered painful as a focal point for reflection, but the rectangular one is particularly bad. Confederate heritage focused groups need to take steps to make a clear distinction in symbols used.

I'm sure I could go on and on about this, but that's probably enough for right now.

Mark said...

Robert, thanks for your considered and comprehensive thoughts. Your point about this flag and its subordination by the SCV being a source of shame to the memory of the common Confederate soldier is well-taken. There is nothing about this contemporary display or utilization that is faithful to why the vast majority of Southern soldiers fought.
Instead the SCV, which is ostensibly designed to maintain an accurate memory of the war, has completed hijacked this symbol and perverted it for an aim that is actually unclear to me.
I would posit it's unclear to them as well, as everything about this venture smacks of an immature attention grab. Whether they're afraid that there is little room or relevance in contemporary society for the Confederate memory or just want us to look at them, this flag is like a little child screaming and acting out for attention, without context or regard for whose feelings get hurt.

Anonymous said...

"this flag is like a little child screaming and acting out for attention, without context or regard for whose feelings get hurt."

An excellent way to explain it, Mark.