June 25, 2015

Flying the Confederate Flag

So I've been thinking about this, and I have to play devil's advocate. I never really felt myself a southerner, even spending as much as my childhood south of the Mason-Dixon as I did.

But the recent controversy over the "confederate flag" has me thinking. As far as I can remember, it was just sort of dumb. In North Carolina, I was around so many people of different colors, there was not hate. In West Virginia, there were no people of any color, so any hate was silly.

But I have seen very passionate remarks on both sides of the current debate. So that made me think of Ferdinand Saussure, like you do. He was talking about language, but any symbolic system fits. There are two sides to every symbol. The symbol itself, and the meaning that people take from it, The rebel flag seems to have two meanings. It is both a symbol of exclusionary hate, and of an in-group pride. These seem to be mutually exclusive. The people claiming it as a symbol of pride are not necessarily overtly racists. They feel that an attack on the flag is a personal attack, especially when the flag has existed for so long   without a concerted call-out as has come about with the recent Charleston tragedy.

The flag is a symbol with separate meanings. As if you asked a North Carolinian native to the red dirt to imagine a tree, the same imagination would conjure up a different object to the person from Maine. A pine tree is not a maple tree.

So the context matters. What's important is awareness of the context. I don't really feel like I have a heritage in this country as I moved around so much as a kid. When asked, I say I'm Polish and Croatian, and a mix from my Mom's side. Here's the thing. I realize context, The current Croatian flag, which is my patrilineal heritage, has this cool red and white checkerboard pattern, It has a long history. The funny thing is that it was appropriated by the Fascist government that ruled the area during the second world war. It is my heritage, but I realize that it is not something to celebrate. So I don't defend it. Period.

Basically, that means from my point of view, the people that defend the confederate flag or any derivation of it are not overt haters, but people that lack context of the ill that was done in its name. It is still a point of contention, but not something to lose friends over. It's something to talk about. Unless they are racists. Then fuck them.