Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Confederate Imagery in the 21st Century. Racism? Heritage? Or Just Plain Fun?

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

Well, I am once again happy to sing the praises of Twitter. This wonderful platform has allowed the reach of Cosmic America to extend all over the world - and people are talking. They want to know about the US Civil War...and as it turns out, the war's legacy too.

From the small island of Guernsey, situated smack in the middle of the English Channel, Matt (a computer graphics artist) was wondering about the problematic nature of Confederate imagery in a modern age. Is this simply a harmless nod to heritage, or does Confederate symbolism evoke America's troubling racist past?

Addressing this topic always stirs controversy - which is good I suppose. It gives me something to argue about...and I like to argue.

The Confederate Battle Flag (aka, the St. Andrews Cross) and other Confederate symbols can be used for many reasons, not all of them racist. Some folks like to fly it as a way to say "up yours" to the man. It is a symbol of rebellion, which means if you are trying to rebel against something - your school, your government, your parents, whatever...this could be for you.

It can even be used in a sort of "tongue and cheek" fashion. You know...good natured fun combined with regional pride just letting Yankees know that the good ole boys and girls down South have figured out how to let the colors fly - on bumper stickers t-shirts, and bikinis.

Others belong to the "heritage not hate" crowd. These folks insist that their ancestors who fought under this banner were fighting for their rights and protection of their homeland - an American virtue that should be applauded. They despise the Confederacy being compared to the Third Reich, and rightfully so. Confederates were not Nazis.

But here is the problem. It is hard to separate the Rebel flag from other groups. A-holes like the KKK and Nazi skinheads who drag it out whenever they want to spew hatred and racism aren't doing the heritage not hate group any favors.

But there is another problem - one that is little more complex than the simple expression of base racism. The Confederate soldiers, like it or not, were fighting to establish a democratic republic conceived on the notion of racial superiority. The Confederate cause was founded to perpetuate the institution of slavery. Period. This whole "state rights as the cause of the war thing" was really a post war creation voiced by those who were trying to distance their cause from slavery.

Now, I know that there are lots of people out there who will disagree with me, but I have discussed this at length on this blog and I believe the evidence speaks for itself. so I will not go in to that right this second.

Confederate imagery is profoundly offensive to a great number of people, despite the context in which it is used. And thus I say to those of you who insist that it is a harmless symbol denoting regional pride - proceed with caution.

I highly recommend a book by John Coski called The Confederate Battle Flag: America's Most Embattled Emblem. He examines the multiple uses of this flag from the Lost Cause period through massive resistance in the 1950s to modern state flag controversies. If you have any further inquiries, this book should set you straight.



  1. Coski's book is essential. Period, full stop.

  2. I see the Bear Flag in that photo. I assume it was taken in California somewhere. Do you know any more about it?