Models Monday: The Confederate Flag’s Stark Simplicity

No American can claim that the Confederate Flag testifies to their proud “Southern Heritage” and be committed to freedom, truth, justice, equality, and democracy. All Americans who make such a claim in support of this flag are dangerous people because they are irrational. These people have mistaken an advertisement concocted in New York as the basis of their longing for a return to this “bucolic way of life,” lack credibility. History exposes the savagery of enslaving black people as it “flashes up at a moment of danger.” When “outside agitators” fuel outrage in response to police officers murdering a black man, the language alone recalls the same words used in justifying white supremacy and exemplifies Walter Benjamin’s understanding of history as recognition of past events in the present. When white men whose job involves service and protection justify shooting two unarmed black people 137 times, failing to render aid to a 12-year-old black boy after shooting him without warning as well as in rendering aid to a black man guilty of selling individual cigarettes, history’s presence is found in the illogical fear of unarmed black people and in the impromptu theater, the spectacle, of staging this unmerciful scene. When a white boy walks into a black church and makes himself at home there before proceeding to kill his hosts because “You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country,” history emerges through the recitation of white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizen’s Council to justify lethal assault. There is nothing complicated about flying the Confederate Flag. That flag underscores the maintenance of the past in the present.

When Nikki Haley, the Republican governor of South Carolina, defended the Confederate flag’s place on statehouse grounds because she:

spent a lot of my days on the phones with CEOs and recruiting jobs to [South Carolina and] can honsestly say [that she has] not had one conversation with a single CEO about the Confederate flag,

I knew I was living during the same time as my elders who were enslaved and those who were treated as second-class citizens under the dictates of Jim Crow. Though dishonest, deficient, and mostly illiterate interpretations of the Christian bible was the grounding text for Jim Crow, the bible is a solid choice. This foolish woman, this modern symbol of transformation, uses the worst text ever to justify white supremacy. Who looks to greedy CEOs for moral guidance? Also, Haley thinks that highlighting good darkies who were appointed or elected officials as evidence of Southern change makes good sense. Haley offers her Indian American heritage as proof of racial progress. This weak sample reminds me of the insight I gained from an Indian American woman who described being mistaken for the IT tech when she entered professional spaces. Soon after that, she and I shared the experience of having her co-panelist enact this very thing when she experienced trouble with the projector during her presentation. Haley appears clueless about how dark skin functions in professional spaces. She thinks her colleagues see her as an equal and not as the head IT girl in charge. I’m sure they just walk into her office and tell her what to say, what to write, and what to think. In fact, I’m pretty sure that any person in her professional environment without dark skin believes that they can also order Haley around. Coincidentally, Haley shifted her stance on the flag an hour ago; someone on her staff must have told her to. Nonetheless, Haley recalls Margaret Mitchell’s construction of amused white slaveholders whose trusted help confused escaping the lash as evidence of trust, respect, and authority. Instead, the professed amusement soothed slaveholders’ anxiety regarding their power to suppress the personhood of their chattel.

People who embrace the confederate flag as a symbol of pride scare me. I understand that flag through my ancestors. They knew what to do with the information they read in the details of a world where they were prey. As someone who understands history through both Benjamin and Marx (as well as Freud), I accept the materiality of the past within current moments. To that end, the Confederate flag means defiance; it means depraved indifference towards black life; it means denouncing longstanding, acute readings that have helped black people fully live in a nation committed to their subjugation. Accepting the Confederate flag as a complicated symbol wastes intellectual energy and actual time. It symbolizes hatred and intolerance…it’s really that simple.

Given that this is public and not private writing, I expect engagement. I fully admit my bias against arguments made in defense of that flag. I’ll “approve” the comment through WordPress because whatever hate mail I receive should be a matter of public record. Given such bias, I won’t waste my time trying to reason with one’s faith in white supremacy; that’s a fool’s errand.

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