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The Unapologetic Geek

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On the Confederate Flag

American flag and confederate flag side-by-side
This is a visual oxy moron

A white psychopath in Charleston shot ten people in a black church--which is unmistakenly tragic and horrible--and now, apparently, everyone is required to have an opinion about the confederate flag. Before I get into my thoughts on the flag in question, let me just make it clear that these two issues have nothing in common. The confederate flag has about as much to do with the unforgivable murder spree as video games have to Columbine, Sarah Palin has to the Gabby Giffords shooting, or President Obama's immigration policy has with ISIS beheadings. Maybe you can torture the facts and logic long enough to make a tenuous connection, but it is ultimately irrelevant. (Yes, I am aware that one confederate flag was flying at full staff at a South Carolina monument when all others were at half staff, but I am also aware that the flag in question cannot be removed without the two-thirds consent of the state legislature and cannot be flown at half staff because it lacks a pulley system.) Anyone who blames a flag for a lunatic is himself a lunatic.

That being said, I understand why we're having this suddenly popular national discussion, and I am willing to participate. People have been complaining about popular usage of the confederate flag--most relevantly, the use of it by certain states in their own state flags--for decades. We have, for better or worse, become a more sensitive country when it comes to symbols and iconography that some of us find offensive. Few people are calling for an outright ban on the use of the confederate flag (which would be an obvious breach of the First Amendment), and it is perfectly reasonable for others to voice their concerns about it.

Confederate battle flags
Thank goodness the "Bonnie Blue" (upper right corner) isn't the one that stuck

Before we go any further, let's get some history out of the way as well. What we call the confederate flag today was, originally, the Army of North Virginia battle flag, and it was a popular flag flown by many confederates during the Civil War. It was not the only confederate flag, however--it wasn't even the most popular during the war--and it didn't really gain prominence until shortly after the war, when it was adopted by various confederate veterans groups like the United Confederate Veterans. It dwindled in popularity from there until World War II, when it was once again used in battle by military units comprised mostly of southerners. Controversy about the flag didn't start until the mid-Twentieth Century, when it was used by groups such as the KKK and the Southern Dixiecrats and, most notably, when Georgia reintroduced aspects of it into the state flag in what appeared to be a state protest against school integration.

Many will argue about the true "meaning" of the flag, but from a cultural perspective, there are two main camps: it is either a symbol of racism and white supremacy, or it is a symbol of state's rights and rebellious independence. Indeed, it is easy to find examples of it being used for either purpose. This debate, then, is as pointless as it is tiresome. Symbols can mean very different things to very different people, and on their own merits, symbols have no political agenda.

Green Day tattoo
I wouldn't advise having this tattoo visible if you ever plan on interacting with any other human beings, actually

That being said, I wouldn't recommend flying a Nazi flag past a synagogue, wearing a Che Guavara T-shirt to a Tea Party rally, or having the Green Day logo tattooed on your forehead when going to a Ramones revival. I mean, there's common decency to think about.

If this were just about a bunch of rednecks slapping the flag on their pick-up trucks or waving it as a banner at country music festivals, I'd totally side with them on the basis of freedom of speech. Yeah, the flag is tacky as Hell and can be offensive to many, but there shouldn't be laws against being tacky or potentially offensive (that would probably make me illegal). The sticking point, and where it gets legally troubling, is in its official uses by state governments.

And here's where I side with the people making a big stink about it and making this the Most Important Issue (du jour). I believe the state legislatures in question should immediately vote on bills calling for an end to state usage of the confederate flag. If I were to be a participant in such a vote, I would absolutely vote in the affirmative (assuming the bill is properly written, of course, and free of any offending riders). However, if the bills fail, then the states should be free to continue what they're doing. If the bills pass, though, wouldn't that be ironic, states using their own rights to ban state usage of a symbol many believe is affirming state's rights?

Neil DeGrasse Tyson giving the finger
Fun fact: in Ancient Greece and Rome, this just meant, "I have a big penis"

What I would not support is federal legislation on the matter, because it is not a federal issue. That would incite more people to wave it, which would subsequently offend more people, which would make this controversy blow up even more, which would make people throw stuff in annoyance, which would make all our arms tired, which would make us all drive with one arm like a nation of douchebags.

What, then, is my opinion of the flag itself? While I can sympathize with those who earnestly believe it is a romantic symbol of state's rights and lost causes, I think it's a symbol of treason and division that has been morphed into a symbol inextricably tied to racism and hate. Yes, I find it offensive. Yes, I think it's stupid for any state to fly it proudly. No, I don't care if it's "a part of history," because that's meaningless. Benedict Arnold is a part of our national history, and I don't see anybody suggesting we put his treasonous face on the new ten dollar bill in a few years.

-e. magill 6/25/2015

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