Where Is The Outrage?

Last week I posted a little item about the way the Confederate flag is used to sell anything from bedsheets to bikinis.  Ken Noe wrote-in wondering why we don’t hear more objections from Southern Heritage groups over the way the flag is represented on various products.  I was wondering the same thing and hoped that someone would respond in a way that would allow me to make just that point.  Let’s start out by admitting that an argument can be made in support of the Confederate flag in certain situations regardless of whether you agree.  For instance, while I do believe that the Confederate flag ought to be removed from the statehouse grounds in South Carolina it does seem reasonable to suggest that a reasonable argument can be made in support of keeping it in its present location.

What I find difficult to understand, however, is how the items linked to in my last post promote Confederate heritage.  Why isn’t this considered to be offensive by Southern heritage folks?  Consider recent news items involving the display of the flag on high school campuses.  Two students in Fort Worth, Texas are suing their school district for being sent home because their purses depicted the Confederate flag.  Or consider the refusal of a school in Kentucky to travel for a game owing to the fact that their students waved the Confederate flag in the stands.  Both cases raise important questions about the First Amendment, but the assumption that the behavior of these students reflects a sincere interest or concern in highlighting their "heritage" or history is suspect. In other words it seems reasonable to ask whether the simple fact of display implies anything having to do with heritage. 

My problem here is that the image of the Confederate battle flag is not by itself sufficient to conclude that the individual associated with it has the interests of the men who carried that flag into battle in mind.  There is a danger that the symbol’s historical significance becomes watered down to a point of triviality.  Confederate flags on purses or the image being waved at a sporting event seems to have little to do with heritage.  The symbolic content of the image is directly connected to the role it played on the battlefield, and the further it is removed from that context the less significant it becomes.  I browsed a bit on the internet store for the Sons of Confederate Veterans and noticed a wide range of items that include the image of the flag.  There are a few items that include the Confederate flag which are tastefully done.  While I have no problem with the identification of the flag as a reminder of the sacrifices and bravery of the men who identified and forged relationships around it I do find it troubling that more people don’t see the marketing of it as antithetical to their memory.      

4 comments… add one
  • Kevin Levin Feb 13, 2007 @ 16:05

    Paul, — Thanks for the clarification. I’m not sure what you are getting in re: to your question about a women’s studies degree. I teach an elective at my high school on 20th century women’s history, but I don’t believe that I ever mentioned anything about the value of a degree in the field.

  • Paul Whitmore Feb 13, 2007 @ 10:26

    1. Sorry bout that…I am the author of the above. I had to reset my browser and forgot to input my name again.

    It’s not difficult at all, but then, I see the issue from the aspect of both a history major and a reenactor. I want to see the issues fairly portrayed without the emotionalism that often gets issues spun out of control. As for others, I really haven’t heard too much one way or another about it, but I’m not in the South or in reenactment circles much these days to hear about opinions on varied flag-use issues.

    I just know what I don’t like.

    2. As an aside, please pardon the ignorance on the issue, but your comments on it make me ask. What does one realistically do with a women’s studies degree? What is its long term purpose?

  • Kevin Levin Feb 13, 2007 @ 10:08

    Thanks so much for writing in. I wonder to what extent this view is held by others with your interests. You responded anonymously, which could have been for any number of reasons, but I wonder how difficult it is for individuals like you to state this view.

  • Anonymous Feb 12, 2007 @ 21:09

    I personally despise the hypercommercialization of the Confederate Flag (although I tend to also despise the overuse of the Naval Jack as well). All these idiotic flags like the Harley Rebel Flag, or the “Hell no, these colors don’t run” flag with the stupid caracature of the grizzled old soldier, do nothing but denigrate the history of 9 million members of the Confederate States (arguments over states rights and slavery notwithstanding.) Of course, the US flag is used in very similar ways.

    In the case of the Confederate flag, in not condemning the commerical misuse of a historical element, these southern heritage groups do nothing to support history or heritage, but negatively impact their own efforts as people see those that carry these flags as hicks, rednecks, etc., or dismiss them as fringe altogether…often lumping groups like the SCV with them!

    As a Confederate Civil War reenactor, I hate when I see these flags for sale at reenactments, on purses, or anything of the kind. It’s not history they’re supporting…but someone’s rancid idea to make a buck. Do I think the flag should be on a statehouse? That’s for the people of the state to decide, but not in my opinion. Should it be on a memorial on statehouse grounds? Appropriately so. Museums? Absolutely. Reenactments? Yes.

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