The Confederate Controversy
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.
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.
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
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?
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.