“Could you two help settle a dispute for us?” my dormmate says, coming into the room I share with my future best friend. “Tell her that flag is racist!”
“What flag?” I ask.
“Come and see what she put up!” my dormmate says, taking me into the room she shared with a girl who was decidedly not her future best friend. Following her in, the problem was immediately apparent.
Hanging on the other girl’s side of the room was a massive Confederate flag.
“Tell her that’s racist!” my dormmate insists again, gesturing to the flag. “I have Black friends. I can’t have that in my room!”
“It’s not racist!” her roommate replies, obviously fed up with this conversation. “You’re Southern,” she says, turning to me. “Tell her it’s not racist!”
“I see where you’re coming from,” I say placating the first girl. “But it’s on her side of the room. I understand how it might be confusing for you, but the flag isn’t racist anymore. It just represents Southern pride.”
The flag stayed up, my placating having helped the second girl win the argument.
And, oh, how I wish it hadn’t.
You see, though I had yet to realize it at the time, I was wrong. Sure, the flag is supposed to represent the South – but in reality, it’s still as racist as anything.
Here are the reasons I, as a white Southern person, and others like me, once thought it was acceptable to fly that flag, and why we were incredibly wrong.
1. “But It’s Supposed to Represent Southern Culture”
As a person from the South, I can safely say that my region has been demeaned by the rest of the country. When you think of a stereotypical Southern person, who do you think of? Chances are you’re not thinking good things. Chances are, in fact, you’re thinking some pretty classist things.
And that’s what we Southern folks put up with all the time – which leaves us with only a few choices.
We, as white Southern people, can accept that identity that has been given to us – or we can forge a new one. And that’s what we’ve done. That new identity centers around a flag that identifies one of the few unique things others know about our region: the Civil War and our rebellion.
But here’s the problem: We’re using that flag to represent Southern pride, yes, but that doesn’t change the fact that it still represents slavery.
Yes, you can get into philosophical arguments all you want about the cause of the Civil War being state’s rights, but that doesn’t change the core fact that had the side that the confederate flag represents won the war, slavery would have remained alive and well in the South much longer.
Despite attempts to convert it to a symbol of empowerment and autonomy, that flag still does not represent Southern pride.
Because mere Southern pride, by itself, shouldn’t represent a threat to all the people of color in the south who’ve experienced racial discrimination and oppression.
And if it were mere Southern pride, you’d find a lot more minorities from the South flying that flag right alongside everyone else.
No matter how understandable white Southerners’ need for identity is, that flag is still racist.
2. “But I’m Not a Racist”
Well, yes, I would certainly hope not. But whether you personally are racist or not, when you fly that flag you are inadvertently sending very racist messages – as we established in our last point.
And if you’re not racist, then you shouldn’t send mixed messages.
Because flying that flag is oppressive and against the very values that we, as feminists, claim to stand for. It inspires violence and creates a toxic environment in the very area Southern black people should be allowed to feel most at home – their own region.
In short, it comes down to this. If you’re not racist, then you need to take a stance against this flag and stop flying it once and for all.
3. “The Flag Is Just a Symbol of History – Giving It Another Meaning Is Reading Too Far Into It”
Okay, let’s say that’s true.
But that also means we have to ask ourselves what did flying the flag mean, historically?
It was flown above a battalion fighting for the South’s rights to continue to go on as they had been – not necessarily a bad thing for white folks.
But for minorities? That means slavery and mistreatment.
For that reason, this ‘symbol of history’ needs to be retired.
Moreover, “a love for history” is often code for nostalgia.
That flag is a symbol of the “good old days” for many people – a time of economic lucrativeness and comfort, at least for white plantation owners, and job stability for the white people they employed.
But those “good” days were terrible days for people of color, especially Black people, whose expense that comfort came at. Nostalgia for those times is nostalgia for times of slavery.
This flag is a symbol of terror for many people, and even if you haven’t experienced that terror, that doesn’t make it any less real for others.
4. “But It’s Just a Flag – It Shouldn’t Matter”
Regardless of whether it should or shouldn’t, the point is that it does.
Symbols have power and meaning – that’s why we pledge allegiance to the US flag every day in school growing up and why after the tragedy of 9/11, you saw hordes of our nation’s flags lining the streets.
It means that we support our nation and that we pledge to uphold its ideals of “liberty and justice for all.”
So now I ask you this: When you fly the Confederate flag, what does that mean? Sure, you may say it means you support state’s rights, but that’s not all it means (or even the largest component of what it means).
Because in reality, you are flying a flag of oppression, the flag that stood for what was intended to be a separate slave-holding nation.
And you’re amplifying the power of the ideals of that flag.
So when you paste that on your car, T-shirt, or mug, what are you really pledging to uphold? It surely isn’t liberty and justice for all – for any one, in fact.
Moreover, consider how that impacts people.
Even if you don’t think the flag should matter that much, the fact is other people do.
In fact, many people say it makes them feel unsafe, and even fearful when they leave their homes and find decorations of a flag that represents such hatred waiting to greet them.
And those people’s feelings matter.
5. “But I’m Just Honoring My Confederate Ancestors”
You can honor your ancestors without honoring their role in the war.
There are many, many ways to respect your ancestor without respecting the side they fought on. Doing some research on them or visiting their graves are both great ways to do so.
But when you fly the Confederate flag, you’re not honoring them as individuals, you’re honoring their entire side of the Civil War – everything that side did, everything that side stood for.
And considering what that side would have done to people of color, that’s not a good thing to honor.
6. “You Politically Correct People Take Things Too Seriously”
But this isn’t just a matter of “political correctness” (also known as respecting the wishes of others).
This is a matter of doing what’s right.
Sending racist messages, whether intentionally or not, is not okay. It doesn’t matter what you think about political correctness.
What does matter is what you think about slavery and oppression.
If you support those, by all means fly that flag – it will help others to recognize and avoid your ignorance.
If not, though, then take it down.
So what do we do about this issue?
Where I’m from, there is an absolutely massive Confederate flag flying near the highway. I mean gigantic – it’s actually fifty feet by thirty feet on an incredibly tall pole and apparently it’s the world’s largest Confederate flag.
I can’t avoid seeing it as I drive by, which means neither can anyone else, including the very people that flag once sought to enslave.
I think we can all agree that’s not okay.
Thankfully, there’s a campaign going on now to remove Confederate flags. Though the main one is to remove the flag in South Carolina – which I thoroughly support – the campaign is stirring a conversation far further reaching than that and has now reached the flag back where I’m from as well.
But we shouldn’t stop with supporting the campaign to end the flag’s use in these large symbols. We need to go further than that, and eliminate it from our daily use as well.
If you were using the flag to show regional pride and you’ve got a Confederate flag bumper sticker, cover it up with one that says “Southern and proud,” if you’re still looking to show your Southern pride.
If you were using the flag to say you support state’s rights, try the Gadsden flag, the one with the coiled rattlesnake ready to strike that says “Don’t tread on me.”
If you were using the flag to say you were racist, well, you’re doing a good job of that.
You get the point. That flag, and the racist ideals it once stood for, belongs in the past.
It’s time to shove it back there for good.
Creigh Farinas is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. She’s a graduate student pursuing a Master’s degree in Speech Language Pathology and who already has a B.A. in Psychology and a post-baccalaureate in Communication Sciences and Disorders. You can see more of Creigh and her sister Caley’s writing at Autism Spectrum Explained.