What To Do About Symbols That Are Not Okay
Every time I drive to pick up my kids from school in the afternoon I pass by this one particular house that is taking an interesting approach to life in the United States. Not the house itself, probably, but the residents. This house is so notable because it is very well-kept and socioeconomically congruous except for one thing: it has a flagpole of the sort you see at post offices and schools on which is hoisted, always and only, the battle flag of the Confederacy. This is very striking and, in my opinion, not okay. I want to ask the residents of this otherwise unassuming house what they are trying to say. Perhaps they would say something like “Southern heritage” or “states’ rights,” but the incontrovertible historical meaning of that flag is a call to take up arms against the United States. Also virulent racism, but treason first and foremost. I grew up in a place where being a male, having reached a certain age and being of a certain class, you owned and wore a rebel flag on your belt buckle, sleeveless shirt, jean jacket and/or one of those baseball caps which is mesh in the back. Never more than one at a time, because that would be tacky. In that place wearing a rebel flag meant you were planning to drop out of school the day you turned 16, and it didn’t mean much more than that. The adult me thinks that flag is a much bigger deal than the adolescent me did. The adult me thinks it’s not okay to fly that flag. But it’s not illegal because it’s not considered indecent.
We have in the US this nasty thing called freedom of speech that each person would like to have for him- or herself and not for anyone else, and I’m afraid it may mean the Confederate battle flag will have to keep flying. But then I think about obscenity laws and community standards of decency which are historically allowed to preempt free speech, and I’m not so sure. If there was a flag with an image of naked boobies on it flying over this notable house, the police would come and take it down and if the owner complained to a judge, the judge would brand that flag as indecent and therefore as banned speech. But the flag that represents a call to arms against the United States is okay? That flag is decent? American soldiers died under that flag. Nobody died under boobies except Anna Nicole Smith’s mummy creature husband.
And what about so-called hate speech? That’s impermissible as well. Burning crosses, nooses–not allowed. They represent incitements to violence or “imminent lawless action.” I think treason is against the law. Pretty sure that’s in the Constitution, in fact. I think the point I’m trying to make is that I believe we should be deliberate and thoughtful and above all, constitutional in restricting speech. If we the people believe that a symbol or an image should be banned, then we should have to amend the Constitution to ban it specifically. No judges deciding that this or that image is indecent. If it’s to be free speech except for _____, I want an amendment in the Constitution that says what _____ is. Germany did that exactly in regard to the symbols of Nazism because those symbols mean something terrible and there’s no pretending in Germany that they don’t.
I’m not saying that we should have unrestricted speech, and in fact we don’t. I don’t want unexpected boobie-flags anymore than any other parent does. I just want the restrictions to be constitutional, and my belief is that right now they aren’t.
It’s always struck me as flagrantly treasonous.
There was some recent controversy in Virginia and Mississippi about celebrating the Confederacy as a great chapter in history. Mississippi in particular likes to embrace its treason by having the Confederate cross on its own state flag after 1863. Great work. Anyway, the MS governor Haley Barbour (I can’t find the news story anymore) in campaigning for Confederate History Month explained that his state’s secession had very little to do with slavery and that critics were mistaking history. It blew up in his face because the MS Declaration of Secession features the following:
“Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product, which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun.”
Hilarious. I’m trying to raise a flag celebrating that imperious law of nature.
Part of the issue is that you never see the US flag AND a Confederate one. It’s one or the other as a bumper sticker or belt buckle, implying a clear preference. And that’s not okay.
Actually, Justin, I recently did in fact find myself in traffic behind a truck stickered with a US flag right next to a Confederate flag. The US sticker read “UNITED WE STAND!” The Confederate sticker read “THE SOUTH WILL RISE AGAIN”. The driver switched on his left turn signal and then turned right. It seemed appropriate.