Local high school bans Confederate flag.
By: Vanessa Durante on May 31st, 2006

Last month, Ithaca High School administrators sent a letter home with students, informing their parents that the flag of the Confederacy had been banned. Ithaca High School students can no longer display the emblem on belt buckles, t-shirts, or anywhere else while on school property. Apparently, the students wearing their Dixie Outfitters t-shirts, in a proud nod to our country’s better half, were white. It is unfortunate that civil liberties apply only to those in privileged groups, such as blacks or Hispanics.

Because the United States Supreme Court has ruled in favor of protecting the freedom of speech exercised in displaying the stars and bars, Ithaca High School had to claim that the flag was creating some sort of disruption in the school that hindered the educational process. No specific instances were mentioned in the administration’s letter.

I found the claim interesting, though, because, were it true, it would clearly indicate that racism is much more of a problem in Upstate New York than in my hometown in Southern Virginia. To think that racial hatred could be stirred up by a high school student’s belt buckle is frightening, indeed. The school’s objection to the battle flag is even more astonishing considering the fact that only 6.7% of the population of Ithaca is black. But apparently the race wars here are far more intense than in my hometown, of which 13.34% of the population was black. And yet, in my public high school, where displays of the confederate flag were common on car bumpers, t-shirts, or belt buckles, and where a significant minority of the student body was black, and even in a state that historically had supported slavery, the flag was never accused of disturbing a classroom, much less of inciting racial hatred.

Ithaca’s black population is proportionately only slightly more than half that of the United States. This is an unusually white city. And apparently race relations here are in such tension that they can be upset by a kid’s t-shirt. Schools in the South, much less segregated, are clearly more at ease and have put issues of racism farther behind them;thus, students there can better appreciate the historic and cultural value of the Confederate flag. It leads one to wonder on which side of the Mason-Dixon Line racism is still prevalent today.

The Confederate flag is not—and was never—a representation of the institution of slavery. The North, in an attempt to glorify its states’ fight to suppress the South’s effort to free themselves from the North’s exploitation, has oversimplified and at times even falsified history by painting the War of Northern Aggression as a war fought over issues of morality. Children in Northern schools are never made aware that there were no more abolitionists in the North than in the South.They are never taught that the North never claimed to want to abolish slavery but merely to stop its expansion to ensure that the free states would not be outnumbered in Congress. Many Northerners do no even know that the majority of Southerners who fought and died in the Civil War did not even own slaves.

In accordance with their favored depiction of the Civil War as a moral battle in which they fought for good while the South defended evil, the North has emphasized the issue of slavery while allowing the issues of representation in national politics, economics, and regional identities which primarily caused the war to recede into the background. Erased from history are the values of self-government, freedom, and honor that led Confederates to fight to preserve their home. This is what the Confederate flag represents, and this is why it is still of the utmost importance to Southerners today. It is why black Southerners will proudly call themselves Southern and will fly the Confederate flag. The South is, above all, a cultural entity. Southerners have a dramatically different culture from Northerners; this culture of chivalry, modesty, graciousness, and hospitality is represented by the stars and bars, and it must be remembered and preserved.

If the Confederate flag has in fact caused the feelings of ill will in Ithaca High School that the administration claims, the blame must fall on the administration itself. No Southerner would be so naive as to equate the Confederate flag with support of slavery. It is a failure of Yankee schools that children are not taught the broad scope of economic, political, and even cultural factors which led to the Civil War but are only presented with a gross caricature of a war between good and evil.

Even more frightening than this restriction of freedom of speech in Ithaca High School is what has caused this common misunderstanding of the Confederate flag. In perpetuating their myth of the North as the force of good in the Civil War, the North has revised history in a way that should frighten all Americans. An emblem of a group of people’s heritage and culture has been banned because others have formed prejudices and misconceptions about it. Moreover, these prejudices and misconceptions are fueled by the public school system itself. By banning the Confederate flag, the state attempts to erase from memory the Civil War. To forget that Americans in the past were capable of such atrocities as slavery robs us of the lesson that can be learned and leaves us dangerously vulnerable to repeating past mistakes.

If the Confederate flag calls to mind slavery, and schools wish to erase from common memory all remnants of this dark period in American history, why stop at the flag? Perhaps next, Ithaca parents will receive letters requesting that their children be sent to school clothed in only synthetic fabrics because cotton was once produced through the slave labor of blacks. Or, in order to really be free of uncomfortable memories of our national history, maybe Ithaca High School will ban all black students from school property

Copyright © 2006 Cornell American

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