Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Symbolically Speaking

"Symbols are the imaginative signposts of life."
--Margot Asquith, English author & prime minister's wife

Symbols invoke many things within out thoughts, minds, and emotions. They provide instructions: Ampelmann (German term for the little cross-walk figure) tells us when it is safe or not to use a pedestrian cross-walk. They keep us out of uncomfortable situations: figures similar to Ampelmann let us know which restroom facilities are the most appropriate for our personal use. They remind us of aspects of our identity: the band of gold worn on the 4th finger of the left hand many anything to you? Symbols are used to send a clear message.

Throughout western culture, especially within European expansion and subsequent American historical development, flags were used in various symbolic ways: to show ownership, to establish a land claim, to denote "we were here" (especially here first...U.S. flag on the moon). One of my favorite comedic commentaries on this idea of a flag's symbolic importance of establishing territorial ownership is a sketch by Eddie Izzard. Video Link (caution, some "language" is used)

Flags have been used to rally support of a cause. The Gadsden flag was used to encourage support of the "Patriots" within the American Revolutionary War--"Don't Tread On Me"--as a reminder of the violations of the rights guaranteed to all British subjects which had recently been carried out by the British government and military. It's interesting that some symbols/flags are appropriated by other groups...sometime with a similar cause. In that many supporters of contemporary "Tea Party" ideology believe that a large, powerful, centralized government is disrespecting the legal rights of the citizenry, many "Tea Party" rallies and events will make use of the Gadsden flag as a symbolic connection with that revolutionary spirit.

The United States Supreme Court has acknowledged the power of our country's flag as an important symbol. In a controversial decision which continuous to garner lots of debate, the Court has ruled hat as such a strong symbol of our country and then government which oversees the country, citizens of this country are protected in their right to use this symbol as they seek to communicate their ideas about this country. This includes a protection for the destruction of this symbol as part of a lawfully protected protest of government policies. Personally, it breaks my heart to see a symbol that so many have died to protect being desecrated...primary our service personal are risking their lives in service of the country, but when the flag, as a symbol of that country, is at risk they will fight to protect it as well.

Simply put, there is power in the use of flags for a symbolic purposes with our country's cultural and historic background.

"Southern Cross"
One flag/symbol that has garnered lots of attention in recent days in the wake of the tragic shooting of worshipers at Charleston's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The Confederate battle flag, also known as the "Southern Cross", serves as a strong emotionally charged symbol to people of a variety of backgrounds. Many white southerners, including members of my own family, hold strong devotions to ideologies of "states' rights" and believe that there is a deep connection with this ideology and the reasons for why South Carolina and 10 other states seceded from the United States between late 1860 & mid 1861 and ultimately formed the Confederacy. As I read South Carolina's declaration of secession (and those of other states) I read of a state government who supported one sole "state right" (the owning of black slaves) and to prevent other states' from exercising a "state right" to prevent residence of their state from being placed into slavery (the federal fugitive slave laws limited non-slave states from exercising such a "right")---but that is a discussion debate for another time.

"Stars and Bars"
During the early Civil War battles it became evident that the flag which the Confederacy adopted as its official governmental flag, the flag known as the "Stars and Bars", carried toit was the misappropriation of this symbol that is the major catalyst to the continued hostilities.
close of a visual similarity to the flag of the Union, especially at a distance, and led to confusion among both sides of soldiers during battle. Thus, another flag was eventually adopted for use by the Confederacy during battle: the "Southern Cross". Again, my purpose here is not a discussion of the ideology of the Confederacy. What I've shared thus far is simply to provide a brief background into this symbol's origin. It this is where the story of the Confederate battle flag ended then continued controversy surrounding the war-era symbol would be nothing like what it is today. However,

It would be after the war, after the surrender of the Confederacy, after the coming of federal Reconstruction policies, and after growing dissatisfaction of some southerners with the social, economic, and political changes in the South that various vigilante groups, most prominently the Ku Klux Klan, emerged to harass, attack, and lynch southern blacks. The Klan appropriated the Confederate battle flag as a symbol of their efforts to help create a "new South". This "new South is quite simply the old South with its race-based caste system substituting slavery with a different form of subordination for blacks since slavery had been legally eradicated by the 13th Amendment. In combination with the white-hoods of the Klan, the Confederate battle flag become THE primary symbol of the terror inflicted upon any Southern black who gave even the slightest appearance of not being happy to reside at the lowest rung of this race-based caste system.

Over the next several decades the power and influence of the Klan ebbed and flowed and geographically spread itself west (with strength in 1920s-30s Oklahoma) and north (esp. Indiana and Ohio). As black soldiers returned from World War II and began efforts to obtain something similar to the racial equality, or near equality, which they saw in Britain and France they were met with resistance. As that resistance grew, especially in opposition to the Brown v. Board decision and subsequent efforts to fulfill its call for the integration of schools, in reaction to the restaurant and department store sit-in movements which began in Oklahoma City with Clara Luper and gained national attention in Greensboro, in response to the bus boycott in Montgomery, in retaliation to the Selma march, etc., etc., etc., this Confederate battle flag was THE symbol used by whites who sought to put blacks in "their place". State governments also made use of the flag part of official policy. South Carolina used the 1960s civil right movement as the rationale for its decision to fly the Confederate symbol atop its capitol's dome.

This flag was THE symbol of the continued effort to deny not only equality of political, social, and economic rights to black, but also to deny simple basic respect for human dignity. Regardless of what historic backdrop brought the creation and initial use of the flag, regardless of any authentic, perceived, or pretended political "states' rights" style ideology claims that surround the flag, it cannot be denied that THIS flag become THE symbol of both independent vigilante group efforts and state/local government efforts to retain white-supremacy even with the use of violent terrorism, torture, and murder. Your "heritage" argument has been sidelined by their "hate" agenda because they hijacked this symbol for their evil acts.

Display of this symbol can be appropriate within an authentic and accurate historical display, like a museum. However, this symbol, because of how it was misappropriated, has not place on the formal and ceremonial political/governmental property at any level within this country. If this upsets you then take out your discontent on those who hijacked this symbol for their terrorist purposes.

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