Flag need not be divisive symbol
by Ethan Guagliardo
October 28, 2005
I hear there’s a ruckus on campus about that controversial Southern flag, apparently permanently bound to white supremacy by the Klan’s very public adoption of the symbol in the 1960s. Personally, I’d rather this be a non-issue. I think some in the media and certain public leaders on both sides have a vested interest in creating or inflaming controversy to the detriment of the health of the community. Until people on both sides begin to realize the end of racism and Southern pride are mutually consistent and indeed dependent goals, the entire South and the nation as a whole will suffer.
The idea that the Confederate battle flag “represents” racism is simply a factual error. The battle flag represents Southern nationalism — the sentiment that Southerners are a unique people bound together by their common history, place and way of life. The flag’s genesis supports this. Louisiana five-star Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard designed the flag by combining American colors and the St. Andrew’s cross of Scotland, the symbol of freedom from the English crown.
That being said, I do not dismiss the connection between the battle flag and the flag racism. After all, Southern nationalism has a well-known and infamous history of using it as its justification to the racial superiority of whites. I take for granted that using racism as a justification for Southern pride is a perversion of the virtues of Southern nationalism.
Frederick Douglass, in his famous “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” speech, notes the disjunction between the ideals of the founders of the American republic and the institutions of slavery. His point is not that slavery makes the foundation of the republic and the Constitution essentially corrupt, but slavery renders imperfect the very principles of liberty and equality before the law the Constitution attempts to provide.
It is a plain historical fact that the American republic — all of America — was built by and prospered on the institution of slavery. Slave traders brought their first captives to states that would later fight for the Union. Even after most northern states abandoned the no longer lucrative slave trade, Yankee coffers grew fat on cotton money from the South and tariffs imposed on imported goods.
Despite this, very few people would reduce American history to a tale of racial injustice. The same can be said for our Southern heritage. As the Civil War cannot be reduced to a moral struggle between those who would uphold the institution of slavery and those who would destroy it, Southern heritage cannot be dismissed as a racist relic of the past best suited for history’s dustbin.
I do not have the time nor the inclination in the short space afforded by this column to go into the value of the Southern way of life and its general historical outlook on politics — an outlook that, since the 1960s and especially apparent in the election of George W. Bush, has given way to American nationalism proving the need more than ever of re-examining true Southern values.
Generally, despite all reasonable argument to the contrary, the argument boils down to “I am offended” or “Well this is what the flag means to me” and therefore, because we are expected in a vulgar democracy such as ours to buckle to loud voices — I am reminded of our Free Speech Plaza preachers — we must be sensitive to these demands. You are offended. Did you wonder why you were offended? Did you ever wonder whether you should be offended?
Personally, I am offended that people who in my estimation are guilty of historical amnesia themselves should think I need to be pitied for my ignorance. I know a little bit about the meaning of rights, of what is to care about heritage and of Southern history — do you?
Despite your infantile tyranny and grandstanding melodrama, you will never silence those who feel an attachment and obligation to the past. My suggestion is this: call student leaders together and figure out a way in which the flag and Southern history can be celebrated alongside the trampling of the legacy and sin of racism and slavery. If the flag as a symbol could have been corrupted, it can also be exorcised of its demons.
It pains me to see racial unrest on campus in the 21st century. It also pains me to see the seemingly all-pervading stupidity and cultural ignorance we find in our society today. But I am not suited to the role of doom sayer. I think that descent can be matched by ascent, and I think that what was lost can be found.
Just as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once had a dream of white and black brothers and sisters sitting together on the hills of Georgia, I have my own small, happy hope — of black and white LSU students flying the purple and gold Confederate flag together in Southern solidarity and mutual understanding