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Flag Follies

confed usaI have significantly moderated my stance on the Confederate flag over the past couple of decades.

For the longest time I dismissed those who derided it as a symbol of hate and White Supremacy.  A big chunk of my dismissal was the (correct) assumption that such conclusions about the Stars and Bars were based on emotion rather than reason.  As an enthusiastic student of history, I’ve always been able to place the flag in what I feel is its proper historic context.  In fact, that flag that is most associated with the Confederate States of America was only the actual design for a very brief time.  The “official” flag went through several changes in the CSA’s brief history.  A brief perusal of Rebel companies and brigades during the Civil War shows all kinds of permutations of the flag.  Suffice to say there was no one single Confederate Flag.

As I have lived and gained wisdom, though, I have begun to realize what I actually knew all along.  Symbolic interaction is inherently emotional.  Your reaction to a symbol is formed in your subconscious.  It took even longer to realize that not everyone thinks like I do.  Long story short, your reaction to a symbol is formed by a million life experiences—juxtaposed against your very soul.  As such it can NOT be wrong.

As a result, I have been forced to realize that, yes indeed, the overriding perception of the Confederate Flag has been successfully hijacked by bad people.  I don’t like that.  I’ve always said (and still believe) that people should be able to discern the symbolic difference between a Confederate flag at a Klan rally and one that sits over the table at the meeting of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.  But again, everyone doesn’t think like me.  I have begrudgingly conceded that a lot of honorable people hold an extremely negative opinion of the flag, regardless of context.  Now, I have warned that this concession would likely lead to similar attacks against other iconic Confederate images like statues and road names.  Looks like I was right; but that’s a debate for another day.  I have conceded the flag.

AP 49ERS REID PROTEST FOOTBALL S FBN FILE USA CAThat having been said, why can’t the same courtesy be extended to those who are taking a knee during the National Anthem and presentation of the colors?  I have heard their arguments.  They see the nation as a racist construct. They see a lack of social justice.  They see White Supremacy.  But like I used to do, they dismiss the thoughts of others who see something entirely different.

There are many who hear the National Anthem and see the colors and associate it with a nation that gave their immigrant parents hope.  Others equate it with loved ones who served heroically in far-away lands.  Still others associate it with coffins containing the remains of people they loved dearly.

To those who kneel during the anthem, I ask—is their reaction any less valid than yours? Does it make ANY difference to you that your actions evoke emotions similar to the ones you likely feel when you see a Confederate flag?

More to the point…if I can make concessions based on others’ reaction to a symbol, why can’t you?  I’ve been told repeatedly what reaction I *should* have to the Confederate flag.   I hope you don’t mind MY suggestion on how we should view the American flag.


3 Comments

  1. Hinoe says:

    I am glad that you considered a more nuanced opinion of the Confederate battle flag, but I feel as though your argument with respect to the American flag may be overreaching a little.

    Consider the following:

    – The Confederate battle flag is controversial because of the toxic ideas attributed to it, in addition to it’s proud history. While it is absolutely true that the Confederate flag represented an entire group of people defending their land, it is also undeniably true that the institutions these people were attempting to uphold were antithetical to that of the American flag. So a direct comparison of the two is hard to make. Sure, both the North and South benefited from slavery – but only one was intent on its abolition post 1850, thus war.

    – The non-violent protests by NFL players isn’t against the flag but instead represent a desire to engender conversation. Now, whether or not this is the appropriate platform for a discussion is a debatable point – but this is the platform these NFL players have, and making use of it isn’t inherently evil or Anti-American.

    – In fact, their ability to express their unpopular opinions(in this case, kneeling in protest to advance issues of the black community that need addressing) about the country should be protected, and defending their unpopular speech is patriotic. Consider Ben Shapiro, who is constantly robbed of his platform by those who don’t like what he has to say – these circumstances are equal.

    – There is a deep emotional response that occurs when people disrespect the American flag, and deservedly so. But a positive response to the American flag is not requirement of citizenship. And just because some people exist who do not feel the same way about the American flag that I do does not change my feelings about it. Some would argue that reverence towards the flag is a requirement, I do not. The ability to choose your own form expression or measure of devotion towards this country’s flag is a matter of the 1st amendment. The ideas the flag represents are what is important, not the flag itself (this goes for the National Anthem as well). Again, going back to the Confederate battle flag – it is controversial as it’s ideals are problematic even without a physical representation of the flag. The Confederate battle flag being waved is doubly problematic as it is active participation in those toxic ideals (talking about slavery here, not the defending of home land).

    – The general ideals the American flag represent are good, but no country is perfect. The good and bad must be considered together in my estimation, as I love this country in spite of its flaws. Thus, I respect the flag as a stand in for this countries ideals, but also respect the idea that other people may have a different experience.

    – Your comparison to immigration misses the mark, I feel. A sizable portion of Americans immigrated to this country, sure, but slaves did not. Now I do not know for certain if Kaepernick or any other NFL player who has knelt are descended from slaves, but this is the reason they are kneeling. The divide between the races in this country has not, and may never fully heal. But the problems that resulted from slavery still exist in some form in this country, and players using their platform to generate discussion about these problems isn’t automatically wrong because it doesn’t feel good.

    – Finally, consider what you would do if your family was discriminated against for things outside of your control. What efforts would you make to fight against that discrimination? If you were given a national platform would you use it to advance your needs?

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  2. Steve says:

    End of the day, when these players are on the field, they are on the clock. They’re at work. Their actions represent the team and owner. If they want to be social justice warriors they should do it on their own time, and not be a disruption to their team and the fans that paid to see athletes perform. Taking a knee to be disrespectful to veterans and police is a wimpy, weak effort to illicit change. If you truly want to be change, do something constructive, give your time and money where it really makes a difference and do something that affects the people you claim to represent.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hinoe says:

    Hey Steve,

    – When you say on ‘their own time’, have you ever considered that all of a persons time is (or at least should be) their own time? That having a job doesn’t invalidate your ability to express yourself.

    – While you make a valid point that they represent a greater idea (a company, or a fan base), have you considered that the players might have a different idea than you do as to what that entails? Maybe they see their fan base as an extension of their family, and as a result, want to share their struggles with them. I know I want my families support even when we disagree, and I support my family even when they disappoint me. Or maybe they just see their fan base as big dollar signs. Unless they express it directly, nobody can truly know how they see their fans or their relationship to their fans.

    – The idea that an entertainer or athlete loses their ability to express themselves is weird, isn’t it? I don’t go to a baker and say: “Hey, this doughnut is great… but you aren’t allowed to have an opinion about the way our country is turning out”. Of course this ignores the wide social implications of a football player using their notoriety to push an agenda. However, the money and fame we gave these ‘celebrities’ rarely comes with strings – which is why there is push back against many dumb elites who have an opinion that is uninformed. That said, they shouldn’t be prevented from having an opinion, or having an opportunity to express it. Our job as the consumers is to stop giving them money if we disagree with them. Which I do.

    – Under what premise is taking a knee automatically disrespectful to veterans and police? Some veterans argue that they fought for a persons right to take that knee if they so choose. This is an argument of expectations: yours vs theirs – and neither is inherently correct, even if one feels more right to you.

    – I agree that more effective change comes in the form of community activism, however in the moment they are on the field they aren’t going to go start building a house – they are there to play the game. A person can seek to make change in every aspect of their lives, even in ones that some people consider inconvenient.

    Just some considerations. Maybe you have thought of these before and still disagree – and that is fine! We can disagree. But as a proud American I cannot say what they are doing is Anti-American. It may be a bit annoying, and possibly hurt their cause – but that is their right. Freedom of speech is the most important when protecting unpopular speech. Of course all speech should be equal, but unpopular speech is more easily demonized, which we must resist even if it feels ‘right’ to do so.

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