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Sunday, October 22, 2017

Confederate Flags: What Pride in Human Bondage?


 

While several states still include remnants of Confederate symbols in their state flags, Mississippi is unique. The primary symbol on the flag is a smaller version of the Confederate battle flag, which to many black Americans recalls an earlier era of slavery and discrimination, but to some white communities symbolizes Southern heritage. What heritage does the controversial flag actually represent?

The state flag of Mississippi was adopted April 23, 1894. According to Civil War historian and native Southerner Shelby Foote, the flag traditionally represented the South's resistance to Northern political dominance; it became racially charged during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, when fighting against desegregation suddenly became the focal point of that resistance.



In 2000, the Supreme Court of Mississippi ruled that state legislation in 1906 had repealed the adoption of the state flag in 1894, so what was considered to be the official state flag was only so through custom and usage.

Governor Ronnie Musgrove appointed an independent commission which developed a new proposed design, and on April 17, 2001, a non-binding state referendum to change the flag was put before Mississippi voters. The proposal would have replaced the Confederate battle flag with a blue canton with 20 stars. This is the proposed flag:

 
The new flag was soundly defeated in a vote of 64% (488,630 votes) to 36% (267,812) and the old flag was retained.

In the wake of the 2015 Charleston, South Carolina church shooting, in which nine black parishioners of an Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church were killed by a young white supremacist, there were renewed calls for southern states to cease using the Confederate battle flag in an official capacity.

This extended to increased criticism of Mississippi's state flag. Several municipalities and schools in Mississippi, including the University of Mississippi and the city of Biloxi, are now refusing to fly the state flag until the emblem is removed. Over 20 flag-related bills, some calling for another statewide referendum, were introduced in the state legislature, but none were adopted.

A 2016 federal lawsuit alleging that the state flag is tantamount to "state-sanctioned hate speech" was dismissed by both a district court and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The lawsuit was brought by a black lawyer who said he suffered because of the "painful, threatening and offensive" flag, which made him feel like a second-class citizen. He noted that as a lawyer, he saw the flag frequently in court, compounding the pain it caused him. He cited both emotional and physical harms, including high blood pressure and anxiety.

The central question was whether the man had standing to sue — which depended on whether he had experienced an "injury in fact." The appeals court didn't deny that the flag might have a deep and personal effect on the man. They said he demonstrated that he feels stigmatized.

But feeling stigmatized, they said, isn't the kind of injury you can sue the state over.

"[E]xposure to a discriminatory message, without a corresponding denial of equal treatment, is insufficient to plead injury in an equal protection case," the three-judge panel ruled.

The 5th Circuit also rejected a claim on behalf of the Mississippi man's daughter, who, under Mississippi law, will be taught "the proper respect" for the state flag in school and learn the state pledge of allegiance to the flag.

The man said that being forced to respect or pledge allegiance to a flag with Confederate imagery would violate his daughter's First Amendment rights.

The Circuit Court responded with an argument that, in a roundabout way, suggests the Mississippi flag might not be worth respecting. That is, they said "proper respect" for the flag is the "correct" or "suitable" respect, not a particular amount of respect.

They concluded, "all that is required to be taught is the history of the flag and the respect that it is due, whatever that may be."

The state does not take responsibility in cases of equality. It does not believe this flag creates a hostile environment for people, and it finds that the stigma created by the symbol is not sufficient to satisfy an injury. Moreover, it requires children to respect it despite

So, the State of Mississippi continues to fly a flag undeserving of respect which causes stigmatization and deep personal negative effects.

Are symbols free and open for interpretation? Of course. Do these symbols speak of different connotative meanings? Undoubtedly. Yet, do symbols also hold powers within themselves to unleash definite emotions? I think so. I believe people should respect the fact that negativity is portrayed in this design. Yet, I still wonder if all Americans are sensitive enough to care.

Findings

Much study has been done on the effects of the display and the associations of the Confederate flag. Wise students can view these findings for in depth information. Each study below is followed by a brief summary

(Strother, Logan; Piston, Spencer, Ogorzalek, Thomas. Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race, June 2017.)

The findings yield strong support for the hypothesis that prejudice against Blacks bolsters White support for Southern symbols (such as the Confederate flag), support for the Southern heritage hypothesis is decidedly mixed. Despite widespread denials that Southern symbols reflect racism, racial prejudice is strongly associated with support for such symbols.”

(Christopher A. Cooper; H. Gibbs Knotts. Social Science Quarterly, Vol. 87, Number 1, March 2006.)

Research shows although racial attitudes are important among both southerners and nonsoutherners, region and race also influence support for the Confederate flag. Southern whites have the greatest support for the flag followed by nonsouthern whites, nonsouthern blacks, and southern blacks. Conclusions. Support for the Confederate flag is not simply about racial attitudes, but a more complex phenomenon where region and race exert important influences.”

(Ehrlinger, Joyce; et al. Political Psychology, Vol. 32, No. 1, 2011. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9221.2010.00797.x.)

As predicted, participants primed with the Confederate flag reported less willingness to vote for Obama than those primed with a neutral symbol. The flag did not affect willingness to vote for white candidates. In a second study, participants primed with the Confederate flag evaluated a hypothetical Black target more negatively than controls. These results suggest that exposure to the Confederate flag results in more negative judgments of Black targets. As such, the prevalence of this flag in the South may have contributed to a reticence for some to vote for Obama because of his race.”

(Moeschberger, Scott L. In Symbols that Bind, Symbols that Divide, Peace Psychology Book Series, 2014, 207-218.)

It was reported is not unreasonable to see racist overtones in a Northern area where the Confederate flag is commonly flown. Grant County, Indiana was the location of the last lynching in the northern states (in the year 1930) and still harbors racial tensions. The sight of the old courthouse where the lynching was held still holds power for many blacks in the city of Marion. Some would be appalled at this implication of racism and assert that it is simply a part of being a Southerner and taking pride in that geographical heritage.

(Holyfield, Lori; Moltz, Matthew Ryan; Bradley, Mindy S. Race. Ethnicity and Education, 2009, 12:4, 517-537, doi: 10.1080/13613320903364481.)

Findings reveal that whiteness remains largely an ‘unmarked’ category as demonstrated via discursive strategies (downplaying and defensive diversions versus race competence). Educators, especially in the American south, may benefit from examinations of controversies over the U.S. Confederate Flag in order to challenge racism in the classroom.”

My Conclusions

Remembering the history of the Confederacy is one thing, but nothing about the lost cause of secession should define who we are today. The Confederate flag is offensive, particularly to blacks. It represents those who fought to keep human beings as slaves and to continue the unimaginable acts inherent in slavery. Those who claim it is an enduring symbol of Southern pride evidently lack the ability to accept a New South in which remnants of racism have been removed.

Symbols and emblems should unite people. How does the Confederate flag do this? If you must fly it on your property, you are making the decision that your right to fly the flag is more important than the perception of others who take offense to it. Others will surely judge your stand. After all, the Ku Klux Klan and various Nazi groups still use it for purposes of promoting white supremacy. Using such a symbol, these supremacists employ racist history to attract members and to spread hate.

We all know the meaning of the symbol has not changed. Perhaps the historically-ignorant are not fully aware of its implications. To take pride in a government dedicated to preserving slavery without endorsing a racist view is more than I can believe.

On a lighter note, even iconic Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd no longer uses the symbol. Gary Rossington, a founding member of the band made a bold statement. The band, he said, was no longer going to use the Confederate flag in their merchandise because hate groups had “kidnapped” it. Rossington said the band wanted no part of “the race stuff” or “the bad things” associated with the flag. “We’re proud to be American,” he concluded.

The Confederate flag – in any form – should not be displayed on public property – any such property in any location. Any heritage it represents serves only to divide present-day America. It should take its appropriate place on display in museums and private collections, places off official grounds. Inscribe beneath it the years 1861-2015. There, history can be shared in its proper context. There, people can view it as an object that is not used to create political meaning. There those who care can review its many negative connotations. And, there people of all persuasions can walk away from it and not be affected by the stigma of its ugly design. And, the nation progresses with such dignity.

Postscript

Southern pride has nothing to do with the Confederate flag. Can someone please convince Mississippi of this? Perhaps, a historical tidbit will help. Just a few weeks before the start of the Civil War, Confederate vice president Alexander Stephens gave his now-famous “cornerstone speech,” from which this is a quote:

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth…”

Sources

Henry Cleveland, Alexander H. Stephens, in Public and Private: With Letters and Speeches, Before, During, and Since the War. 1886.

John Wihbey. “The Confederate flag, divisive politics and enduring meanings.” journalistsresource.org. August 26, 2017.



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