I grew up watching the famed 1980s television show Dukes of Hazard. In fact, it ranked as one of my two favorite shows along with A-Team. Every episode I most looked forward to the moment when the Duke Boys would launch the General Lee into some impossible jump, narrowly escaping who-knows-what (often capture by Roscoe P. Coltrane in hot pursuit with his buddy Flash). I thought nothing of the name of the Dodge Charger the Duke Boys drove, neither did I think much about the paint job, capped off with the confederate flag on the roof. In fact, I thought it was cool. Every car I played with as a child jumped liked the General Lee. Then one day, I had my own General Lee. Coolest. Car. Ever!
Years later, I found myself living in the Deep South, where I served a two-year volunteer mission for my church. I grew to love the South and its people, many of whom demonstrated strong religious convictions. It seemed like every missionary I knew in that mission wanted to return home with a confederate flag. Even I hopped on the bandwagon, particularly enamored with a confederate flag displaying the words, “The South Will Rise Again.” I never considered the implications of that statement. If the South did rise again, what wretched history would it bring back with it?
Regardless of how any of us feel about the confederate flag, no one can deny its well-deserved controversy. We cannot escape history, as much as we try to ignore it, forget it, or simply pretend it did not happen. Simply put, the confederate flag symbolizes one thing: absolute, untamed, unadulterated hatred. Sure, it represents a heritage, but it is a heritage of hate, and a heritage no one in his or her right mind should ever support or be proud of.
I find many people on the internet, within social media especially, making endless comparisons to the confederate flag. One of the most popular symbols people compare the confederate flag to is the Nazi swastika, another iconic symbol of hate. While the comparison has merit, it has flaws, too. The main flaw comes in the origins of each symbol. Hitler appropriated a symbol with deep religious connections to Buddhism and Hinduism and other religions, the svastika (in Sanskrit, meaning “good fortune” or “well-being”). Hitler gave a slight turn to the symbol and used it to stand for his newly organized Nazi party in 1920. The Nazi party ideals had long been developed, and Hitler chose the symbol as something that could represent those ideals “of a racially ‘pure’ state. [Therefore] By the time the Nazis gained control of Germany, the connotations of the swastika had forever changed” (“History of the Swastika”).
The modern rendition of the confederate battle flag, however, was born out of racial prejudice and hate, the same origins of its antecedent flags. Ben Brumfield provides a great brief history of the confederate battle flag in his “Confederate battle flag: Separating the myths from facts.” The flag first and foremost symbolizes rebellion, which hinged on slavery: “To put it more simply … the South only seceded to preserve the violent domination and enslavement of black people, and the Confederate flag only exists because of that secession, said CNN political commentator Sally Kohn. “To call the flag ‘heritage’ is to gloss over the ugly reality of history.”
Though only ever flown by a few confederate army units, including Robert E. Lee’s, it was only years after the Civil War ended that the confederate flag as we know it today took over the role as the sole symbol of Southern rebellion, perhaps the reason this manifestation of it elicits the horrific cry that “The South will rise again.” The most important historical information Brumfield provides in his article details the resurgence of the battle flag as a symbol of rebelling against an increasingly desegregated society moving closer to equal rights: “But desegregation progressed. As it passed milestones like the Supreme Court ruling on Brown vs. Board of Education, which gave black American children access to all schools, the Confederate battle flag popped up more and more.”
The confederate flag is a permanent staple of many Southern households, including some in my own neighbor. It disgusts me because I feel like a live in a racist country; basically, I live in the confederate states of America. And what makes it more disgusting? I live in a region, whose citizens by and large proclaim to adhere to Christian ideals. In fact, my own community celebrates Christmas with a parade every year.
I am a Christian with a Jewish background (well, Jewish ancestry and relatives), so we make a point to incorporate the traditions of the two faiths into our lives as much as possible. This time of year, of course, brings us Hanukkah and Christmas. The last thing anyone wants to see associated with these sacred holidays is a symbol of hate, like the Nazi swastika, especially if one is Jewish, and most people would not dare to display something so tasteless on their homes. However, those same people have no reservations in displaying their confederate flags. But the tastelessness doesn’t end there.
For this year’s Buena Vista, VA Christmas parade, the temperature plummeted, and the wind swirled. But I was determined to partake of the experience, since our oldest child had talked about going for days and was more than willing to brave the cold. So he and I attended the parade. His favorite part? All the candy thrown from paraders.
Well, we froze, danced around to keep warm, and tried to wrap up in a blanket. We made it through, somehow. Near the end of the parade we looked on at the inevitable display of local classic cars and jacked-up pick-up trucks. One vehicle, both a classic and a jacked-up pick-up rolled by, proudly displaying immediately behind the cab of the truck two large flags: the American flag and the confederate flag, which, as you may have noticed throughout this post, I refuse to dignify with capitalization. A feeling of disgust washed over me, and my son and I immediately walked away. In a parade filled with Christian display upon Christian display, including Nativity Scenes and a few awkward stand-ins for Jesus, so many people didn’t notice or didn’t care that someone had decided one of the most iconic symbols of hate in the Western World should be associated with Christmas.