By Nick Anstett
My brother and I play a game during our annual trip to Ocean City where we attempt to find the most tasteless paraphernalia currently sold on the boardwalk. In past years winners have been shirts that publicly displayed profanity or sexual references or were emblazoned with attempted high school Senior Week slogans such as the ever popular, “Party with Sluts,” however, the winner this year took me by surprise. While the sophomoric sex jokes and marijuana iconography remained, alongside them were dozens of shirts declaring their support for what has come to be known as the Confederate battle flag. The most striking of which declares, “I would rather be historically accurate than politically correct.”
On a basic level the presence of these shirts, while unfortunate, is not a surprise. Following the tragic shooting in a historically black church in Charleston, S. C. in June by the self-proclaimed white supremacist Dylan Roof, the outcry against the presence of the Confederate Battle Flag has been vocal and widespread. This culminated in the removal of the flag from South Carolina’s statehouse grounds this summer. The removal of the flag that has become a rallying point for Southern American pride sparked controversy and apparently, T-shirts.
While I feel as if raising an argument towards the designers of boardwalk T-shirts is likely a useless cause, I find it worth saying that the shirt in question is doubly harmful. To begin with, its apparent moral stance of historical accuracy, as if we are to treat the backs of pick-up trucks and tank tops as relics of a by gone age, is in and of itself a falsehood. The most commonly seen form of the Confederate flag in contemporary culture was never used as an official symbol for the Confederate States of America. According to “New Historian,” while forms of it were incorporated at staggered points throughout the Civil War, including partial representation in the second and third versions of the official flag, the full rectangular rebel flag was only ever used predominantly by The Second Confederate Navy during the latter years of the war and Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. However, even Lee, as highlighted in a piece apeparing in The Washington Post regarding the Charleston shooting, saw the flag as a defunct symbol and as a needless continuation of aggravating regionalist conflict. Declaring the full populist form of the Confederate flag as a bastion of historical accuracy and the Southern way of life is not only, yes, politically incorrect but just incorrect at a base level.
The fact of the matter is, the Confederate battle flag that we see most often lionized is steeped in racial prejudice. While the use of the flag and its variations was sporadic for memorials and ceremonies honoring veterans of the Civil War throughout the decades that followed, “HistoryNet” claims that the use of the flag as a symbol did not reach full fervor on colleges and demonstrations until the Kappa Alpha Order fraternity introduced the symbol during “Dixiecrat” protests in the late 1940’s, a political party created in opposition to growing civil rights movements in the Democratic party. Since then the flag has commonly been used as a symbol alongside white supremacy rallies and Ku Klux Klan demonstrations through the last 70-so years and recently in response to this summer’s events in South Carolina. The historical accuracy in question would instead refer to a decades long participation in perpetuating racial violence and segregation.
There is precedent for the handling of controversial and potentially dangerous paraphernalia in other countries. In Germany, Swastikas and any related Nazi symbols are banned from public use, and their use in entertainment is highly regulated. Due to the international negative connotation these symbols have this course of action, while at times extreme in its application, makes sense at its most basic form.
While freedom of speech and expression do and should protect the use of the Confederate flag by private individuals, the events of this past summer demonstrate that it has no place in public or government houses or buildings. We as a nation have long passed the point where we can hide behind the flag as a symbol of anything else other than a loud expression of racial prejudice and violence. When you fly it, recognize that you are carrying with you an icon that bears the burden of racial hatred and that it will be perceived as such by many of those around you, but what do those politically correct people know about historical accuracy anyway.
Photo courtesy of wikipedia.org