The Confederate Controversy

Introduction

Recently an African-American student in a southern University came under fire for flying the controversial Flag of the Confederate States of America. This flag served as the national banner that the short lived Confederacy rallied under during the Civil War against the North. To many the flag is blatantly and obviously offensive as it represents just how badly the South wanted to keep slavery. The banner could easily be construed as a symbol of White dominance and oppression and a desire for the “South” to “Rise Again”.

In this hub I hope to explore the topic and talk about the line between protected speech and hate speech as it relates to the flying of the Confederate Flag. I also hope to talk about why I both agree and disagree with those calling the flag offensive.

light-hearted pic for a serious topic
light-hearted pic for a serious topic

Freedom of Speech

Here in the United States the first amendment protects each citizen's freedom of speech. Despite the language of the amendment not giving any limits on this speech U.S. Law dictates that there are in fact times when a person's free speech may be limited. The main limit on free speech are provisions in the law against certain kinds of Hate Speech. Hate speech is generally derogatory speech against someone based on characteristics such as gender or race that may incite violence or prejudice against that person or group of persons.

So the question is, is flying the Confederate Flag hate speech? It is easy to argue that the flag is offensive and that it may rouse strong emotions in those who are offended by it but is it, by itself, hate speech? And if the answer is yes, if it is indeed hate speech is it the sort that should still be protected by the first amendment?

In my opinion the cost of censorship is too great. While the flag may offend some for others it is a symbol of “Southern Pride” which they have divorced from the racism of the flag's history. By itself the flag is a symbol, it is those who view the symbol that imbue it with power. It is clear that there are those, like the student mentioned earlier, who fly the flag without racist connotations despite what the rest of us see when we look at it. I feel that we have a duty to protect the right to fly the Confederate flag no matter how much we disagree with it.

My reason goes deeper than the concerns of freedom of speech however.

Hypocrisy

One of the things I have learned from studying history is that the past is often sugar-coated when it is taught later. We tend to overlook the failures of our ancestors and applaud how they overcame adversity and used ingenuity to give us the future we have today.

There are many flags in the world and chances are that if you probe the history of the nation behind that flag you will, sooner or later, find racism, sexism, bigotry, hatred and all manner of horror. Human beings are quick to forget how barbaric we were and in many ways still are. In my opinion if you are going to ban the Confederate flag or take any offense at it than you must also take offense at the American flag itself.

All Flags are Offensive

America. From the moment Europeans landed here they took Natives as slaves and stole the land right out from under them. It's a story I'm sure everyone is familiar with but one that we too often forget. As we added stars to the flag of the Union the area the Native Americans inhabited became smaller and smaller. We killed them, forced them into reservations or assimilated them forcibly into our culture.

Our Founding Fathers set up a country where only White Men could vote and own property and where black men and women WERE property. If you're offended by the Confederate Flag but aren't offended by George Washington's face on every dollar bill than you are a hypocrite.

If racism isn't a big enough reason to find the American Flag offensive was about sexism? Women couldn't vote either at the inception of this nation, in fact they couldn't vote until the 20th Century! American fought a war for independence against the British that was mainly about taxation without representation and in the process of building a new country we kept slavery and made sure women couldn't vote.

Investigate nearly any flag and you will find a sordid history or something to make it offensive. We have been conditioned to ignore the sins hidden behind the American flag and conditioned to feel offended when shown the flag of the Confederacy. It is nothing more than an emotional reaction.

The Betsy Ross Flag

Everyone knows the legendary Betsy Ross Flag, after making it Betsy was living in a country that didn't allow her the right to vote... shouldn't women find that offensive?
Everyone knows the legendary Betsy Ross Flag, after making it Betsy was living in a country that didn't allow her the right to vote... shouldn't women find that offensive?

Scrap the Guilt and the Pride

I see no reason why we should feel guilty for the deeds of our ancestors or offended when we are reminded of those deeds. I also see no reason why Southerners should feel any pride when seeing the Confederate flag. The entire business of imbuing these banners with such powerful emotion is irrational in the extreme. We cannot ban something based on the irrational emotions, be they pride or offense, they stir.

Our country makes new mistakes everyday and our world has real problems that need fixing. It seems to me that investing such feeling and emotion into banners that our ancestors flew is a waste of time. It is the history that is important, it is the racism, not the flag that stirs it, that should be your target. Want to stop people from flying that flag? Instead of getting angry why not educate people about the truth of the Civil War and about how pointless racism was back then and still is today?

Conclusion

While to many flying the Confederate Flag is offensive it should still be protected as free speech. However that doesn't make it a good idea to fly the flag, or any flag. Nationalism, patriotism and pride won't get you very far. We should not be in the habit of forgetting the sins of the past to bask in romanticized fantasies. Instead we should learn from the mistakes of our ancestors and work together toward a better, more united, future.

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Comments 6 comments

Phoebe Pike 5 years ago

There are many people in other states who have those flags as bumper stickers... it's really not a big deal unless they adopt violence or hate speech. Symbols are only symbols... a flag isn't hate speech unless it is clearly stated. The flag also represented wanting to stay as a land without industries... farm states.


WD Curry 111 profile image

WD Curry 111 5 years ago from Space Coast

This is a really well written piece. Everyone should read it and take it to heart.

I live in central Florida, where many people can look back to their family’s participation in the Civil War. They have the money to prove it. Out away from the beach, in the scrubby little traditional towns, there are still working cowboys and a breed of young country folks who love their way of life. You will often see them rampaging down the hardscrabble trails in their near-monster trucks, emblazoned with decals and flying full sized confederate flags. They hold no prejudice against anyone. They are proud of who they are and their way of life.

In the day, there were no slaves in this part of Florida. The Scotch/Irish “Crackers” were dirt poor homesteaders or cattlemen. They had an amenable relationship with African Americans, who were depended upon heavily for their skill as builders and tradesmen. The local African Americans were free men and often out-paced the Crackers with their income. You see, around here slavery was not an Issue . . . we just don’t like Yankees telling us what to do.


Paladin_ profile image

Paladin_ 5 years ago from Michigan, USA

While I don't have any comments on the content of your hub, I'm glad to see you've headed it with a YouTube clip from "The Young Turks." I thought I recognized Steve Oh.


WD Curry 111 profile image

WD Curry 111 5 years ago from Space Coast

Paladin - We have found common ground. We can build from here. It's all good Zull Dog.


Titen-Sxull profile image

Titen-Sxull 4 years ago from back in the lab again Author

@WD Curry 111

Thanks for the kind words. I'm rather surprised by some of the angry attitudes I see elsewhere online about those who don't see the confederate flag as offensive. It seems like people are confusing the symbol for the very thing it generally symbolizes and forgetting that different symbols mean different things to different people.

Many in the south aren't conditioned to see the racist connotations of the Confederate flag just as we are all conditioned to ignore the flawed and bloody past that the American Flag itself might represent.

I'm attempting to inject some objectivity, where many others seem driven by guilt, pride, or just the knee-jerk of being offended.

If we're honest with ourselves most nations have horrible things in their histories, be it slavery, inquisitions, human sacrifice, even cannibalism. Why should a piece of cloth come to symbolize only the negative or the positive? Why wrap up so much emotion in such symbols at all? Seems rather silly to me.


WD Curry 111 profile image

WD Curry 111 4 years ago from Space Coast

I am surprised you don't have more comments. You must be busy with other things than drumming up traffic. I thougt of something that applies to this piece. I lived in South Carolina for awhile. Some of the folks in Charleston can't forget how the Yankees, who were laying siege to the city, would shell the civilians on Sunday morning when they were on their way to church. They still defy the forces who killed their great grandfather's baby brother and mother while she was pushing the baby to services in his carriage.

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