Symbols and flags

Posted on Friday 29 September 2006

George Allen really needs to give up (WaPo):

RICHMOND, Sept. 28 — Sen. George Allen can’t seem to win: first, he apologizes for addressing an Indian American with a racial slur and acknowledges that many view the Confederate flag as a hate symbol. Now, the Sons of Confederate Veterans want him to apologize, too

[snip]

“What I was slow to appreciate and wish I had understood much sooner,” Allen told a black audience last month, “is that this symbol . . . is, for black Americans, an emblem of hate and terror, an emblem of intolerance and intimidation.”

[snip]

“He’s apologizing to others, certainly he should apologize to us as well,” said B. Frank Earnest Sr., the Virginia commander of the confederate group at a news conference. “We’re all aware, ourselves included, of the statements that got him into this. The infamous macaca statement. He’s using our flag to wipe the muck from his shoes that he’s now stepped in.”

Over the years, Allen has been a darling of the confederate group. As governor, he designated April as Confederate History Month. He has displayed the battle flag in his home as part of what he said is a flag collection. And his high school yearbook picture shows him wearing a Confederate flag pin.

As amusing as Sen. Allen’s follies are, though, this story provoked some other thoughts, too.

Polimom’s all over the concept of honoring our ancestors. I am, after all, a genealogist. And the Civil War is most definitely an interesting period. However, while the Confederacy has a place in our history books, it’s rather different conceptually and symbolically… and the Confederate Flag is nothing if not a symbol.

In all honesty, Polimom’s first thought when I see it flying in front of somebody’s property (or on the front of a pick-up truck) is…. racist redneck. Doesn’t always mean it’s true — it’s just the reaction I have.

Yes, it’s an historical artifact… but just out of curiousity, do you think of Nazi symbols as being offensive only to Jews?

13 Comments for 'Symbols and flags'

  1.  
    John
    September 29, 2006 | 6:33 pm
     

    I have the same thought when I see the Stars and Bars on a house or truck and I think the history in inportant but our flag is Old Glory

  2.  
    Lazarus
    September 29, 2006 | 6:54 pm
     

    Geeee, then the Stars and Stripes should really tickoff the English !!!

  3.  
    Lazarus
    September 29, 2006 | 7:42 pm
     

    The squirrel in me takes flight NOW:
    I have only one sighting of Eddie Izzard , that being a HBO (or should that be “an” HBO, no it has a f_____g “H” in it – please see Izzard and – a ‘humble or an ‘humble’ – thus to ‘h’ or not to ‘h’, that is the question.) and I had to take medication three times to avoid “the Big One!” as Red Foxx used to say.
    Izz, a British cross-dressing stand-up comedian and actor who describes himself as an “executive transvestite”, has the absolute BEST explanation as to why Europeans managed to stamp their particular ‘isms’ on the world, and Polimom in a way it speaks directly to your question – FLAGS
    Boiled down to it’s unfunny basics, I’ll attempt a little Izz – Says S/He, “A possible Italian with family in Greece and Portugal, went to the King and Queen (no giggling) of Spain – think of that, (pregnant pause) and THEY say I’m mixed up – to get funding to get on a slow boat to China. Don’t laugh, he did, or he thought he did. At any point, the Spanish finally figured out they didn’t hit the Far f_____g East (at this point I should let you know Izz uses curse words well, more like early Red Foxx than early Richard Pryor and the F-bomb is inserted wherever it can fit for funny).
    “Now they ran into, and over quite often, local native people everywhere who had lived on these f___g islands for years but they had to find someway to pay back the kings and queens so they said,
    “Is this your island? … The where is your flag? NO FLAG. (to the side) hand me the flag Boner, no, no, no not him, I said fLag, fLag. Thanks.
    “The guy takes this flag stabs it in the ground and says, “Under this flag I claim all the land touched by this beach” – and the natives bought it! Pretty soon, there were Europeans all over the f____g world with great masses of f____g flags, stabbing them in the sand and claiming everything from …”
    And so his bit is better than the part I tried to quote but he is a riot.
    And he explains FLAGS better than anyone I have heard.

  4.  
    September 29, 2006 | 7:53 pm
     

    So Lazarus — back to the post topic — are you saying, then, that you see the Confederate Flag as just a typical symbol? No more, no less than others?

  5.  
    Lazarus
    September 29, 2006 | 9:41 pm
     

    Honestly Ma’am, I’m not sure I see The Confederate Flag very often, especially when you take into consideration how many of them there were.
    The First Confederate National Flag, the one which is correctly called the “Stars and Bars” (please note that is NOT the flag which is earlier referred to as “The Stars and Bars” above or even the first Stars and Bars) with 13 stars. The Second National Confederate Flag, nicknamed the “Stainless Banner” incorporates some of the image of what has incorrectly been dubbed “The Confederate Flag” that is actually a naval flag called the Naval Jack an adoption Army of Tennessee Battle Flag, also known as “The Southern Cross” that is square and was never “The Confederate Flag!” The final and The Third Confederate National Flag takes in parts of a battle flag, the Stainless Banner and the real Stars and Bars.

    I think the entire issue, to coin a quote, Much Ado About Nothing. Nothing personal here as I’m not directing this toward any person but to the broad range of things some people place more importance than the individuals involve do, did, have done. It’s the same feeling I try to express about the Twin Towers in the poem Freedom Trees of September . So many fixated on the Towers! Why? Only an architect or an “item hoarder,” (think of the Lord of the Ring’s’s character Gollum and ‘His Precious,’) could see them as important or having souls that day. It wasn’t the stupid buildings of 9/11! It was the people, inside and outside them. It was the nation, not just New York.
    If you are silly enough to wrap yourself in a piece of cloth, or identify with those who do, a piece of cloth few even know what it means; I’ll just put you into the corner of my mind set aside for people who could care less about the facts, and more about their hypothetical ambiance of the situation. This list usually includes people I must remember not to talk about politics, religion, sex, or nationalism.

  6.  
    September 29, 2006 | 9:50 pm
     

    I don’t think the Confederate flag is comparable to the Nazi version. Yes it’s a symbol of oppression and a way of life that shouldn’t have been legitimized by our government. But I don’t the the Rebs were inherently evil, as Hitler and the SS were. After all, most of 5 million slaves lived.

  7.  
    Jack
    September 29, 2006 | 10:22 pm
     

    If you can admit from you knowlege of history that our Civil War was a complex and difficult time period for both sides, then it really should not be a strange thing to have people not see that flag as being racist.

    It is a very odd interpretation of history to decide that people in the south must have hated slaves so much that they were willing to die by the hundreds of thousands for them. Most people in the south were too poor to own slaves to begin with.

    You must acknowlege that history is very complex and generalizing the Civil War down to simply the issue of slaves does any part of America’s history a disservice.

    Could you not also think that remembering parts of Texas history against Mexico are offensive to people today in Texas? Does that mean we tear down the San Jacinto monument? Because it is offensive? Why do anything if someone is going to be hurt by historical memories. Maybe because sometimes the point is not to offend, and that we can’t really pick any part of our history and not have it bother somebody out there.

  8.  
    Jess
    September 30, 2006 | 6:06 am
     

    While I can agree that the Civil War is a complex issue that should not be seen only from the side of slavery, the Confederate flag is offensive to me. Even as a southerner, raised in Georgia for most of my life. And maybe it is because I equate the flag with “racist rednecks.” In most of my experience, it has been the racist rednecks flying the flag…I’ve seen their Dixie Outfitter shirts and heard their racist comments, and it began to be very offensive. And although the history is complex, the fact that the flag flew while African Americans were being lynched or killed way past the time of slavery, I feel that it does somewhat equate with the Nazi symbol. African Americans may not have been killed by the thousands, but it still brings back memories of a time when they were enslaved – and honestly, I think I’d rather be killed than enslaved. Both instances are a time when people were treated as less than human. That time was an awful one in their history, and seeing the flag brings up those hurtful and wrong experiences. I agree the flag should be flown in museums. And in someone’s home if they so choose. But to display it on cars and on t-shirts, or atop the capitol building or in state flags seems wrong to me.

  9.  
    September 30, 2006 | 7:41 am
     

    What an interesting series of comments.

    After reading them all, I realized that I haven’t always felt this way. At one time, I was neutral about the flag…. an historical artifact all the way.

    Jess, it’s likely that you hit on what happened to me, as did Laz somewhat. Over the years, it seems like every time I’ve encountered someone who held the Confederate flag as their symbol has indeed been a flaming racist. Less often, but still in high proportion, they’ve also been redneck. Were they all actually that way? I dunno… but the overall impression has been made.

    FWIW — when I was younger I went through a phase where I felt a strange nostalgia for the southern way of life. (I say strange because my family wasn’t from the South.) From what I remember, it was mostly a desire for mint juleps and a slower pace, rural atmosphere, and sense of community / family.

    This ran perhaps into my very early twenties. Eventually, though, I incorporated a wider understanding of history and slavery with the people I’ve encountered who revere the flag, and the feeling today is one of distaste.

    I don’t think I’m offended when I see it per se so much as I file the location or person away in my mind as someone with whom I likely don’t have anything in common, or someplace where I’ll be without intellectual peers.

  10.  
    September 30, 2006 | 7:55 am
     

    Jack —

    The Civil War was immensely complex, I agree 100%. You said:

    It is a very odd interpretation of history to decide that people in the south must have hated slaves so much that they were willing to die by the hundreds of thousands for them. Most people in the south were too poor to own slaves to begin with.

    Actually, I don’t think they were willing to die because they hated slaves. The motivations would have differed widely depending upon economic / social status. A dirt farmer who didn’t own slaves, though, was very low in the social pecking order, and even for him, slaves performed a function; they provided a lower layer yet in the hierarchy… just as racism itself often still does today.

    However, those who fought for the South would have shared a bond I think we can all relate to: a sense of nativism. Protectionism. Kind of a “don’t tell us what to do”. It’s human nature, I think, to stand and fight for what one considers “yours” — something we’d all do well to hold in mind when we wonder at the defensiveness or bonding together of groups that feel under attack today… like Muslims.

  11.  
    Lazarus
    September 30, 2006 | 9:24 pm
     

    Jess says … the fact that the flag flew while African Americans were being lynched or killed way past the time of slavery,…
    Sadly, those deaths can almost to an individual be laid at the foot of what is euphuistically called reconstruction . The U.S.A Stars and Stripes as well as the Christian flag was flown there, too. We see these pieces of clothes in sickening pictures that show many dead among other flags including state flags and in at least one case, the Seal of the President-of-the-United States with bunting at an occurrence in New York.
    People do understand this was happening all over thanks to the stupidity of elected officials and Boston was, and some say still is, the most racist city in the U.S. So you are going to pick one flag-thing out of all those to hold guilt. Interesting. I prefer to think it was the stupid SOBs doing the killing and murdering, and none of those cloths did a darn thing.
    Additionally, I think those pieces of cloth only have the power we give them, so in one’s dislike, fear and assumptions, they give those who wish to breed dislike, fear, and hate power that is not their own but what we give to a piece of cloth.

    Just so people know, Texas was placed in a singular situation at that time, having been an Independent Republic for a decade and a state for only few years longer when the Union started to dissolve. The states’ secessions was called treasonous by the industrialized NorthEast, as without their easy access to cotton, their mills would be bankrupted.
    Texas could care less; while Galveston shipped a lot of cotton; it was timber and the land itself making Texas’ stock and trade. As a matter of fact, one of the requirements of the Republic of Texas joining the U.S. was it had full legal right to separate from the U.S. for any reason at any time.
    There was a great internal fight in Texas politics as secession gave way to forming the Confederacy, big plantation owners on one side, rich but few votes, and the Texian general public who had staunchly supported our hero, first President and First Governor, General Sam Houston. Once Old Sam threw himself fully into the fight, by “barely” getting into an act.
    At one point during the heated discussions in the Capital Board Room, President Houston stripped totally nude and danced atop the board-room table in an effort to demonstrate to a group of the state’s top political leaders there considering joining the Confederacy (we’d already dissolved our agreement with Washington) that the “Confederacy was wearing the Emperor’s New Clothes” and that joining the C.S.A. was a bad move for Texas. The Statesman’s, reporting of this, actually got him more of the popular votes. But popular votes were never the problem. King Cotton and the money it meant ruled the day.
    Making things even more complex, Texas had a number of special conditions placed into the agreement to joining the U.S. and one was it could (and still can) divide itself into as many as five separate entities and voters in each can decide if they wish to be part of the U.S.A. The only thing Houston feared more than us joining the Confederacy was the state dividing up as he had already been forced to sell about half the state’s land to the U.S. when we were a Republic to settle debt and arm the fledgling Texian Navy and Army.
    So it worked out, the now re-declared Independent Republic of Texas took the question to the people – kind of. The first two rounds saw Houston’s side carry the public vote; a third and final vote turned out different. It is most certain the final one was bogus as money, whisky and guns were at all the polling places but it saw the Republic of Texas agree to enterer the War Between the States, but as a Confederate ally, not as a member of the Confederacy. This was later changed, not by Texas, but by an unconstutionial bill that passed what was left of the fractured U.S. Congress.
    Just a tidbit of history of the place I call home.

    To be sure, there was many things going into the making of the War Between the States, but the key wasn’t slavery; it was money, and who was going to get the biggest share. There were abolitionist and many people knew slavery was wrong. But the question was who deserved the most money, the Northern industrialist who made the finished product but whose profits were cut by labor costs; or by the Deep South’s plantation owners, who were getting “money” fat, feeding on the muscle, skin and bones of people whose luck it was to have been born with more of a type of chemical, melanin, in their skin and at a time that shames every U.S. citizen, no matter their race.
    Life sucks and then you die.

  12.  
    Lazarus
    September 30, 2006 | 10:40 pm
     

    Just another thought on “flags” and/or symbols – this one irritating to me: The Nazi of Germany were not just perpetrators of some of the most horrendous crimes in human history, but the turkey’s were also basic thieves and screw-ups!
    What we call a swastika has in the past meant everything from good fortune to a salute by an American Calvary Troops thank you to the indigent people.
    Folks, we have just GOT TO quit letting certain bad things people do, ruin a piece of cloth or symbol for everyone else!
    Please take a look at swastikas “As The World Turns”:
    swastika; swastika ; Swastika; swastika; swastika; swastika; swastika; swastika; swastika; swastika

    And not one means anything bad. As a matter of fact, the last one in the list is the original insignia of the 45th Infantry Division taken from the American Indian symbol to honour them.

    Symbols = barf

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