I was originally going to do a recap of the Supreme Court decisions of the last few weeks, but given that everyone and their second cousin twice-removed are discussing those decisions (whether positively or negatively), I have decided to forgo that topic. However, there is another topic that I feel should be addressed, given some recent news and an experience I had at the family reunion my wife’s side had earlier this month.
I have spent my entire life living in Texas. I’ve spent most of my life rejecting Texas culture because, quite frankly, I don’t find any merit in most of it. I don’t believe the phrase “everything is bigger and/or better in Texas” has any sort of legitimacy, I find Texas politics to be appalling, especially when it comes to human welfare, and I think most importantly, I’ve always been turned off by Texas “values.” To take it a little further, I’ve always been turned off by “Southern values.” I do not, at all, consider myself to be Southern.
This is the benefit of being a first-generation Texan.
Moreover, there is an aspect of this state’s culture that I find to be beyond the pale when it comes to atrocious principles, values, and ideas. Of course, I’m talking about this fucking thing right here.
Despite this flag actually being the battle flag for the Army of Northern Virginia, the so-called “Confederate Flag” has become the symbol of the Confederacy as a whole. Eleven stars to represent the eleven states that seceded over the issues of slavery and the rights of the states originally, and two more stars representing the admittance of Missouri and a secessionist provisional government of Kentucky in late-1861.
As we all know, the Confederacy lost the war. Also, as we all know, the sympathy for that cause is still alive today.
During my teenage years, there was a house in my neighborhood that had a large Confederate flag on the front-facing portion of its roof. I saw that flag at least three times a week for several years. Before that, whenever I went through my grandparents’ neighborhood, I saw a couple of houses that sported one in their front yard, despite the fact they lived in a predominantly black neighborhood. I’ve seen this flag in a variety of places over the course of my life and have not only grown to resent it for its historical significance, but also for how it’s being bolstered today.
“It’s a symbol of Southern pride,” they say.
While perusing the news on my Facebook wall, I came across an article published by Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress, in which the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that Texas’ decision to not issue licence plates that bear the Confederate battle flag was unconstitutional. It’s begging the question: are licence plates government speech or private speech? In Judge Edward Prado’s majority opinion, he stated that Texas committed viewpoint discrimination by rejecting the view that the Confederate flag is a symbol of Southern heritage, sacrifice, and independence. Prado also concluded that licence plates are a form of speech reflective of the person who displays them, citing a 1977 Supreme Court case, Wooley v. Maynard, in which the justices ruled that the state of New Hampshire could not require its residents to display the state motto — “Live free or die” — when it violated the moral convictions of its citizens, as per the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.
Judge Jerry Smith cited a more recent case in his dissent, Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, arguing that messages displayed on licence plates don’t necessarily have to be either government speech or private speech, but that they could be both. Judge Smith continues by noting that in the Summum case, the city of Pleasant Grove, Utah successfully argued that they had the right to be selective in what monuments it displayed in a public space and that their selectivity did not violate the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. It was ruled to be a valid expression of government speech. Smith also notes that via the ruling in Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, the state of Texas should be allowed to determine what messages it displays on its licence plates.
Earlier this month, I attended an Independence Day parade in New Pekin, Indiana. New Pekin is a town about ten miles from Salem, Indiana, where the family reunion was taking place. During New Pekin’s Fourth of July parade — which dates back to 1830 and is considered by the locals to be the longest-running consecutive Independence Day celebration in the country, despite Bristol, Rhode Island’s claim theirs has been going since 1785 — I saw something that really disturbed me. I laughed it off, sure, but there was just something about it that chilled my bones. In hindsight, I’m pretty sure this is a byproduct of being in a region that refers to itself as “Kentuckiana.”
Yes, during a parade that is celebrating the arbitrary anniversary of the United States’ independence from Britain, these four people, two of which are children, are marching in gray uniforms with old-timey rifles and that goddamned flag. Does anyone else see an issue with this?
Flags are symbols of the nations they represent, and as such, are representative of the philosophies and values of that nation. The Confederate States of America was a secessionist government that was set up when seven states — South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Texas, Georgia, and Louisiana — bailed from the Union following the 1860 election of Republican President Abraham Lincoln. The South, which had advocated its dependence on slavery despite growing consensus in the nation that slavery was a moral atrocity, then decided to start a goddamned war by attacking Fort Sumter. This flag, and the plethora of others that exist from that time (some of which are still being used today or have modern variations), are all symbols of a treasonous nation, and by extension, those flags are, themselves, symbols of treason.
We consider the Civil War to be the darkest period in our nation’s history, a conflict that was doomed from its inception to have long-standing repercussions and was to test the loyalty one has for their nation. The actions of the secessionist states amounted to treason, and yet I have seen people fly this flag and the American flag together. How does someone rationalize that? How can any person exercise pride in the symbol of a nation whose actions amounted to moral reprehensibility and the attempted destruction of the United States government, yet still weep when the Blue Angels zip through the air while “The Star-Spangled Banner” plays and an over-sized American flag flows in the breeze?
Let’s stop making excuses for the Confederate battle flag and look at it for what it really is. A symbol of hate, racism, oppression, and treason. Furthermore, let’s make sure that upcoming generations aren’t marching in parades flying the damn thing. This way, we can make sure there aren’t other instances when 37% of a demographic say they would back the Confederacy in the event of another Civil War.