Yes, you can claim the confederacy is part of your heritage, but why would you take pride in it?
The Confederate flag is a flag that represents racism. This is not always a popular opinion to admit as a white southerner, yet the facts are undeniable in this matter. The Confederate banner is a flag grounded in a racist history, one based primarily on the savage institution of slavery. To that end, the Confederate flag is a symbol of southern history, though a rather dark side of that history.
It must be said that the flag, widely recognized today as the symbol of the Confederacy, is not the official flag of succession. It was a Confederate battle flag that was later adopted by the Ku Klux Klan, though it was not the national flag of the Confederacy. This is a small point, however.
As a white southerner, the topic of “heritage” is brought up from time to time. Due to the recent shooting in Charleston and the backlash Confederate symbols are getting, an equally potent backlash is emerging among southern whites related to the removal of these symbols. What I have often heard is that the flag and monuments to the Confederacy are connected to southern pride and cultural history, not a racist ideology.
While many white southerners do not agree with this sentiment, the topic cannot be easily avoided. While many white southerners want to see the flag as a symbol of southern pride, what they ignore is the roots of their “heritage” and the society this heritage wanted to maintain: a society based upon enslavement.
When it comes to southern history, the hard truth is that the south based its economy and social system upon the enslavement of other human beings for many centuries. While the cruelty of slavery is not the south’s alone to bear, the south also cannot gloss over the fact that slavery was a dominant economic and social factor of southern life until 1865.
When it comes to the Civil War itself, the issue is even clearer. Many spin-doctors and Confederate apologists try to make the case that slavery was a minor issue for the Civil War. The case is made that the real issues were economics and state’s-rights. Yes and no.
Were economics and state’s-rights arguments included in the many tensions to the Civil War’s eruption? Absolutely, they were crucial factors to be sure. Yet, what laid behind the economic and state’s-rights factors? Slavery, of course. You cannot discuss the pre-Civil War southern economy without taking into account its mode of labor was based on slaves. Slaves and cash crops were the heart of the southern economy.
When it came to state’s-rights, well, the seceding southern states all gave reference to the right to keep slaves as essential to liberty and the core of the rebellion. The south did not secede over their state’s right to name streets. They seceded because they feared losing their ability to own slaves, which was the economic backbone of the south. The main argument was for the state’s right to decide the legality of slavery.
When these are taken into account, it becomes clear that the Confederacy was a society addicted to the enslavement of humans, and what it fought for was the right to feed that addiction. While many average soldiers of the Confederacy were certainly not fanatical slave owners, the ultimate conflict they were waging was to decide whether states had a right to allow slavery. As with all history, issues are much more complicated when broken down, yet what the Confederacy ultimately stood for was a society based on racial slavery.
My hometown of New Orleans has a large monument dedicated to Confederate General Robert E. Lee. There is a massive column in an area called Lee Circle, a popular tourist site and touring homage of a defeated defender of a slave society. New Orleans also has a “Civil War” Museum that (when I was a kid) used to be referred to as the “Confederate” Museum. This was in the 1990s, not that long ago. Not a day goes by that I haven’t took a ride on the Saint Charles Streetcar, and looked out my window to gaze upon this towering dedication of disgrace.
I won’t debate the valor or record of General Lee. Whether or not he was personally a good man, so on, it still stands that he raised and led armies in rebellion against the United States, and the the main catalyst to this rebellion was to maintain the rights of the southern bourgeois to keep the slave/cash crop society in tact (and continue to profit tremendously). That’s why the Lee Circle monument should go, and all symbols of the Confederacy.
If you are a private citizen, you have a right to own any flag and symbols you want. We can’t ban you from owning a Confederate flag and waving it proudly. Yet, no government agency should sponsor or promote the legacy of the Confederacy, simply based upon the nature of what they were trying to defend. It was wrong. They were wrong, and we cannot allow it to be a representative of who we are as a nation.
Germany does not allow any Nazi symbols for a good reason. The legacy and “heritage” of those years in Germany are a black mark and insult to human decency. Germany and Germans know that there is no reason to allow such open displays on public grounds. Germany actually bans it all, -period. That is perhaps too far for me, but this is a matter for Germans to decide. It is clear why they do not allow it. Why celebrate atrocity?
Nazism cost Europe millions of lives. Jews were not alone in the suffering and slaughter. Slavery in the United States is perhaps worse, because the period in much longer and accrued more hazy statistics. It is is known now what made slavery such a horrific institution. The torture, rapes, separation of families, and basic degrading of them as humans. Treating humans as property, things to be sold and bartered. This is a society that people want to praise and honor? No thank you.
White southerners are trying to rationalize their affinity with Confederate symbols and monuments. While these do represent southern heritage, it is not a heritage that anyone admonish or celebrate. Why should Confederate symbols not be allowed on public grounds? The same reason we don’t find Nazi symbols acceptable in public. This is not heritage anyone should be proud of.