About that Flag In Front of the White House

Once again, Ta-Nehisi Coates nails it:

It is the wisdom of the crowd that matters. The wisdom that marked Sunday’s crowd was the idea that the president “bows down to Allah” and needs to “put the Qu’ran down.” The wisdom that marked Sunday’s crowd was the notion that Obama was not the president of “the people” but the president of “his people.” The wisdom of Sunday’s crowd held that the police, doing their job, looked “like something out of Kenya.” It’s not so much that a man would fly a Confederate flag, as Jeff Goldberg notes, in front of the home of a black family. It’s that a crowd would allow him the comfort of doing it.

I was in a crowd once. It’s been almost 20 years. But I remember most is how emphatically we were drilled, that day, on the politics of respectability.  Our wisdom was conservative—too conservative for my tastes, frankly. But I obeyed the edict of the day which held that had any black man who came to the Million Man March and so much as stole candy bar would doom us all. That was our wisdom. It’s a good memory. But I fear that it is no match for the wisdom of Sunday’s crowd. The blue period is upon us.

MORE: I don’t know if I am effectively communicating what is wrong with that picture and why it is deeply infuriating. If a patriot can stand in front of the White House brandishing the Confederate flag, then the word “patriot” has no meaning. The Nazi flag is offensive because it is a marker of centuries of bigotry elevated to industrialized murder.

But the Confederate flag does not merely carry the stain of slavery, of “useful killing,” but the stain of attempting to end the Union itself. You cannot possibly wave that flag and honestly claim any sincere understanding of your country. It is not possible. (my emphasis)

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14 comments… add one
  • Mark Thompson Oct 19, 2013 @ 19:16

    Truly, he really did say it all. That flag represents treason. I have ancestors who fought for the Confederacy, but I still don’t condone what they did. That flag represents not merely slavery, since you could say the same of the United States flag before the war, but also an armed attempt to destroy the Union by force. It is a wonder to me we allow it to be flown at all.

  • Christopher Coleman Oct 16, 2013 @ 7:28

    To be honest, I can see a Confederate flag being flown at a site related to the Civil War; I think that is a legitimate use of it and I can go along with the “heritage not hate” argument for its use in that context. But in front of the White House, even without all the racist comments and hypocrisy, it cannot be taken as anything but a political statement–and a TREASONOUS one at that!

    Likewise, the astute observation by Jimmy Dick about the tea-baggers co-opting the Revolutionary War flag. They aren’t Patriots by any stretch of the imagination and they dishonor the memory of the Spirit of1776 by their ignorant hate-filled rhetoric.

    By the way, the 14th Amendment specifically states the Federal Government is obligated to pay its bills, so this whole shutdown/default business is actually unconstitutional! Funny how tea-baggers are so big on some parts of the Constitution but not on others.

    • M.D. Blough Oct 16, 2013 @ 8:16

      For starters, they seem to be completely oblivious to Article VI of the Constitution, not only to the Supremacy Clause but to the only reference to religion in the original Constitution, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

  • Betty Giragosian Oct 16, 2013 @ 7:01

    Hated to see the CBF in front of the White House, but my reasons are different from yours. It was just another way to desecrate it, although the person holding it evidently thinks differently.
    I am not aware that the Tea Party has adopted the CBF. I did speak up in the 50’s and 60’s when the CBF was used to promote hate and injustice. It is a battle flag,nothing more. Nothing less. It belongs in Confederate cemeteries.

    • Patrick Young Oct 16, 2013 @ 12:21

      ” I did speak up in the 50′s and 60′s when the CBF was used to promote hate and injustice.”

      Thank you.

  • Jimmy Dick Oct 16, 2013 @ 5:53

    Coates got this absolutely dead to rights. Not only that, but J.L. Bell on his blog, Boston 1775, also pointed out how we are wrong to let the Tea Party abuse the flags of the Revolution for their purposes which is the equivalent of letting the racists use the CBF so many years ago. The Nazis did the same thing with the swastika. We all need to speak up when historical symbols are perverted for an ideology that has nothing to do with the meaning behind the symbols.

    If the flaggers want to reclaim the CBF then they have to do more than just wave it around. Of course, they also would have to start using history and not an incorrect heritage. We who study the Revolution have to speak out about what these symbols are like the Gadsen and Pine Tree flags and deny the Tea Party’s warped and very incorrect historical interpretation of the Revolution.

    • Rob Baker Oct 16, 2013 @ 5:58

      That’s actually a good argument in regards to the CBF. Why didn’t those “honoring Confederate soldiers,” speak up in the 50’s and 60’s when the CBF was used with evident racial implications? Answer, because they knew exactly what it meant.

      • Andy Hall Oct 16, 2013 @ 6:23

        To their everlasting credit, Rob, the UDC did speak out against it. But they were trying to make their voice heard above the angry, populist roar of George Wallace, Strom Thurmond and Massive Resistance.

        • Rob Baker Oct 16, 2013 @ 8:07

          I thought it was ambivalent. There were the pros and cons of its display, according to Coski that is.

          The UDC was also opposed to Brown v. Board and engaged in “Massive Resistance.” This leads one to believe they did not disagree with the purpose of the flag in the 1950s. Their issue seems to be more of a “display” problem.

          • Betty Giragosian Oct 16, 2013 @ 16:33

            I joined the UDC in 1959. The UDC has never approved of the CBF being used by hate groups or for political purposes. As I said earlier, the CBF was the soldiers’ flag, a battle flag. In the 50’s,the purpose of the flag was what it has always been: It was the soldiers’ flag. It had no purpose other than decorating the graves of the fallen, or Confederate monuments. Its image has been besmirched by the offensive groups that have used it. There was no way to protect it. They grabbed it and ran with it. We have all come a long way since those days. We have several African American women who are members of the UDC. One has become a good friend since I met her, and she is speaking to my chapter tomorrow. In every case, their ancestry is proven, and we are glad to have them. .

            • Al Mackey Oct 16, 2013 @ 16:41

              John Coski’s book on the CBF makes it very clear how the UDC sought to defend it from those who would use it to promote racial separatism and other political issues. According to Coski, the UDC consistently sought to only use the flag in a memorial/honorable way and to condemn any other use.

  • Karen Quanbeck Oct 16, 2013 @ 5:48

    Making the rounds: http://i.imgur.com/v3c7gxm.jpg

  • John Heiser Oct 16, 2013 @ 4:08

    A protest that was apparently organized to decry the closing of the World War II Memorial turned into the hate fest that resulted, fueled by an elected senator, a political has been, and Larry Klaytor’s rhetorical nonsense. I saw where one participant was uncomfortable with the Confederate flag being there and purportedly said so, but nothing in the mob mentality that followed prevented it from being prominently displayed. Coates nailed it perfectly, Kevin. No matter that the intent of this mob, some of whom were veterans of the armed services, it did not make anything they did that day legitimate; it only revived the racial hatred that still pervades in this society and the Confederate flag’s presence in front of the White House, at the head of this group of “patriots”, destroyed any legitimate arguments they had. The only thing missing was the hood and burning cross.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 16, 2013 @ 4:16

      And the silence from those who claim the flag for Confederate soldiers speaks volumes.

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