Kevin Collier’s Lost Cause

It’s nice to see that Robert Moore has had some time to publish a few blog posts in the midst of his pursuit of an advanced degree in digital history. As always, he is thoughtful and offers an important perspective that is worth considering. Yesterday he offered a few words about Kevin Collier, who refuses to turn in his SCV vanity plate in Virginia. You may remember that Virginia discontinued this particular plate a few years ago owing to the display of the SCV’s logo, which includes a Confederate battle flag.

Robert is hesitant to assume the worst about Mr. Collier’s motives as the last (or at least one of the last) holdouts:

I know nothing more of Mr. Collier or all of his thoughts behind why he chooses to display the Confederate flag, other than what the article tells me. Nor am I in search of other details about why. As such, shouldn’t people be a bit more hesitant in judging him and his character (and, even his defiance)? The great mistake in all of this is the stereotype that seems to go with all those who opt to display the Confederate flag in some form or fashion. How can one resent stereotypes of some people, on one hand, while encouraging stereotypes of other people, on the other hand? Everyone who displays the flag isn’t racist. No matter what some people may think or say, that “heritage” that’s referenced… while, yes, it can be a deflection, for some… and, yes, they are out there… who don’t recognize (or aren’t really knowledgeable of it beyond their own decision to display) the complexity of matters behind the display of the flag, and/or hide behind it in the name of something racist and even sinister… it is not the case for everyone. It seems impossible for some to swallow these days, but “heritage”, or making a connection with one’s ancestry in some form, can actually mean something else to other people… and it actually does.

I agree with the overall thrust of Robert’s comment. I know nothing of Mr. Collier’s motivation firsthand and I am perfectly willing to accept that not everyone who identifies with the Confederate battle flag does so for purely racist reasons. Let me suggest that there are two issues at work here.

First, is the question of whether the Confederate battle flag should be displayed on public property. I believe that most reasonable people will answer that question in the negative. It has no place in front of courthouses, on license plates or any other site paid for with taxpayer dollars.

The courts and the people of Virginia have answered through their elected officials that the Confederate battle flag does not belong on license plates. On that particular score, I don’t care what motivates Mr. Collier. He is breaking the law. His act of defiance will likely come with consequences, which I assume he is willing to accept.

Of course, the broader question of motivation is more difficult to address, but I am less concerned with maintaining a neutral stance compared with the position outlined above by Robert. At this stage Mr. Collier cannot expect his neighbors and others to give him the benefit of the doubt as to why he identifies with- or how he chooses to display the Confederate battle flag. I would suggest that recent events and numerous stories of the flag’s appearance at various political rallies falls comfortably into a long history of the flag’s connection to resistance to civil rights and outright expressions of racism and white supremacy.

It is his choice to ignore this history and recent trends, but we don’t have to ignore Mr. Collier’s choices

Mr. Collier is the 2nd Lt. Commander of the SCV’s Stonewall Camp No. 380 in Virginia. Like other SCV camps this one appears to have a fairly close relationship with the Virginia Flaggers. Earlier this year the camp welcomed Susan Hathaway as part of a fundraiser for the Flaggers. This organization’s connections to White Nationalists and other nefarious characters has been well documented over the years.

The point for now is if you are an officer in an organization that raises money for groups such as this you do not get a free pass on the issue at hand. As I stated a few months ago, I am pretty much finished with giving the benefit of the doubt to people who still wrap themselves around the Confederate battle flag. If that is the only way you can find to honor your Confederate ancestor than it is a weak connection indeed.

Is Mr. Collier a racist? I don’t know. Does his organization support a group, comprised of and supported by White Nationalists, who raise large Confederate battle flags along Virginia highways? YES.

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5 comments… add one
  • Stan Sep 20, 2016 @ 3:28

    Patrick, you wrote, “By nature only a race of people can be racist or an individual be a bigot.” I understand and agree with the bit about bigotry, which is an individual attitude. But can you please explain what the first part of your sentence regarding racism means? Thanks

  • Patrick Jennings Sep 16, 2016 @ 10:46

    Like Kevin, I agree with the broad sweep of the article. Equally, I agree that it is the business of governments to determine the status of presenting select symbols on public property. I do, however, believe in the inherent rights of individuals and thus find James and Stan entirely wrong in their approach. By nature only a race of people can be racist or an individual be a bigot. Mr. Collier may be a bigot, he may not – I do not know him. If, however, the Commonwealth no longer accepts his automobile license plate as a legal type then he is wrong on the scales of justice. For all I care he can nail his old plates to the wall of his rebel man cave or slap it in his back window (if Virginia allows for the display of old tags like that); he can fly Confederate flags all over his property or even ISIS ones…but he has a legal responsibility to operate his car with a valid tag.

    There, and there alone, the argument begins and ends.

  • Stan Sep 16, 2016 @ 6:27

    Agree strongly with James here. I will add that denying racism where it clearly exists is part of how racism is maintained. There are a lot of good hearted white people who have no idea how racism operates. The denial is very effective.

  • James Harrigan Sep 16, 2016 @ 5:58

    I don’t think it is hard. Anyone flying the Confederate flag is engaging in an intentional act of racist provocation – for the simple reason that everyone knows that virtually all black people (and most whites) regard it as a racist symbol. Saying “that is not what it means to me” is incoherent and disingenuous – everyone knows how the CBF will be interpreted. To say “I don’t care how other people interpret it” is a racist statement. So, can someone engage in a conscious and deliberate act of racist provocation and somehow not be a racist? Of course not.

  • Boyd Harris Sep 16, 2016 @ 5:23

    This seems to resemble the same argument I use when describing an individual’s motivation to join the Confederate army. Did some soldiers willingly fight for the Confederacy for reasons other than a defense of slavery? Yes. Even so, were they fighting to establish a nation built upon slavery? Yes.

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