Thursday, November 06, 2003

Bring on the hate mail: Howard Dean has been getting hammered for his comment that he wants to "be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks." Rival Democrats wondered how Dean could be so insensitive that he would pander to racists.

I guess I missed the day that being a Southerner became a hate crime. Truth is, people who fly Confederate flags aren't necessarily racists.

Now, I don't fly or display the Confederate flag. But to me, the Confederate flag is a symbol of Southern pride. It conjures up images of the "Dukes of Hazzard", with the General Lee racing away from Rosco P. Coltrane, and of Lynyrd Skynyrd singing "Sweet Home Alabama" (even though the band was from Florida).

Having grown up in Texas, I would see the Confederate Battle flag from time to time. Some people, including African Americans and other minorities, would wear the flag as headbands and the like. It conveyed a message of "Whoo Hoo! I'm a Southerner, and I'm a rebel."

Then, one day, the Confederate flag suddenly was perceived to mean that the person displaying it deeply wanted to own slaves.

Unfortunately, some racists and white supremacists do use the Confederate flag as a symbol of their hatred. But they also use Christian crosses and say the Bible condones slavery.

People need to understand that the people who do fly the Confederate flag aren't automatically racist. There are many Southerners who see the Confederate flag as a way of expressing a separate identity -- similar to hippies. It's a "To Hell with the Establishment" attitude.

If the Confederate flag is evil because it comes from an era when slavery was legal, then you could say the same about the Texas flag, any other Southern or Eastern U.S. state flag, or even the American flag.

Before you dismiss such conjecture, some people already hate the American flag. In Tennessee, a state legislator refused to join her colleagues for the daily Pledge of Allegiance because she felt the American flag represented slavery and racism.

You have to remember the history of the United States. At one point, states in both the North and South allowed slavery, including Massachusetts and New York. When our nation was formed under the Constitution, state governments were given the most power, except for certain restrictions that were expressly forbidden to them under Article I Section 10. The national Congress was supposed to have limited power, being able to do only what was expressly granted to it under Article I Section 8. The 10th Amendment was meant to further ensure that states retained most of the power. But as the nation matured, the federal government ended up with the most power, leaving the states with less. This proved more beneficial to the North, whose industry benefited from a strong national government, than the South, whose agrarian economy depended on local control.

The Civil War was a fight for states' rights. Now, slavery was a huge part of the issue. States wanted the right to, for one, allow its citizens to own other human beings. But Southern states also wanted the right to set its own tariffs and to nullify federal law. In fact, the Southern states originally tried to secede in 1832 after the federal government enacted tariffs to protect Northern industry. South Carolina tried to nullify that law and threatened to leave the Union. Congress passed the Force Act, which allowed the use of federal troops to stop South Carolina. Andrew Jackson finally approved a compromise that prevented a civil war from breaking out -- a civil war that had nothing to do with slavery.

Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860 under a platform to stop slavery from spreading to other territories in the United States. Although he would have liked to stamp out all slavery, he had no plans to do so. But the South saw its power declining in the national arena, so it decided to secede and retain its power as a unit. Lincoln waged war in an effort to save the Union, not to free slaves. He reluctantly decided to pass the Emancipation Proclamation as a public relations move to make sure foreign nations, who already banned slavery, wouldn't come to the South's aid. And the Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in areas that the Northern armies were set to invade. Slavery continued in Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri -- states that allowed slavery but fought for the North.

The people fighting the war didn't care about slavery. Most Southerners were poor, and slaves were expensive. Very, very few Southerners owned slaves. And the Northerners weren't about to risk their lives to free people that were a different skin color from them. Yes, racism lived in the North, too.

After the war, Radical Republicans sought to punish the South, so Congress passed the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery. Congress also passed the 14th Amendment, which weakened states' ability to oppress their own people by ensuring that the Bill of Rights applied state governments as well as the federal government.

Thankfully the North won the war. Besides ending the sick practice of slavery, the North's victory also ensured that the nation acted as one. Had the South won, the states would have retained power to dismiss anything the federal government did. The United States would have ended up like Europe is today. Instead, America has grown to become a super power instead of a weak, squabbling collection of states.

Racial problems persisted in the United States after the Civil War. While racism was prevalent in the North, too, the South was especially harsh on minorities, especially blacks. Fortunately, the Supreme Court, John F. Kennedy from Massachusetts, and Lyndon B. Johnson from Texas pushed for sweeping changes to end the Jim Crow laws and dragged the South into the enlightened era.

The Confederacy has influenced many parts of our culture. In fact, nobody seems to notice, but Texas still flies the another version of the Confederate flag, the Stars and Bars, on the University of Texas at Austin campus, along with the French flag, Spanish flag, Mexican flag, United States flag, and Republic of Texas flag. These are the Six Flags of Texas, which represent the six sovereign nations that at one time or another controlled at least a part of the state of Texas.

The concept of the Six Flags of Texas was later turned into a theme park in Arlington (near Dallas). Different sections of the park were meant to represent the different cultures of the six nations, including the Confederacy. The park did very well, and the company opened more parks around the country. So should all the Six Flags parks change their names to avoid some concocted connection to slavery?

That's not to say that the Confederate Battle flag is not divisive. The Nazi Swastika was originally an old German-pride symbol that Hitler borrowed. Germans who were alive before Hitler came to power have argued that Hitler shouldn't be allowed to tarnish a symbol of German nationalism. Truth is, he did. And you can't separate the hate from the Swastika.

But on the other hand, Native Americans and other cultures have been displaying the Swastika for thousands of years. Take a look at old Native American art, and you'll find the simple symbol prominently displayed.

Obviously, the Native American use of that symbol predates Hitler and in no way condones the Nazi atrocities. But it also shows that some of these issues are not black and white.

The Confederate flag offends many, many people. Out of respect to those people who see the Confederate flag as a racist, divisive symbol, I will never display it. But I think we should remain open minded enough to realize that displaying the Confederate flag is not intended for hate. Sometimes people are just trying to express themselves. We shouldn't rush to judge them -- because that's just a form of prejudice and racism.


Post a Comment

Copyright © Staunch Moderate
Using Caribou Theme | Bloggerized by Themescook