Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Symbol of Oppression

I can’t explain or understand why, but one of my father’s favorite shows when he was just a few years older than I am now was The Dukes of Hazzard. Friday nights after dinner, whether we were visiting my parents in Brooklyn or they were with us in White Plains, he’d watch Bo and Luke Duke do their shenanigans while riding around in the General Lee, their orange Dodge Charger with a Confederate battle flag painted on the roof. To enter and exit the car the Dukes had to climb in or out through the side windows.

Sitting next to my father during these TV times would be our son Dan, all of five years old when the series ended its six-year run. So it shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise to me that one day during his formative years, when Dan and I were riding around in my Chevy Vega hatchback, he asked if he could get out of the car “like the Dukes.” 

The General Lee is back in the news. After the massacre of nine Afro-American parishioners in Charleston, SC, by a white supremest who posed for pictures with the Confederate battle flag, professional golfer Bubba Watson has removed the flag from his copy of the General Lee, replacing it with an American flag.  

As a symbol of oppression, the Confederate battle flag ranks right up there with the Nazi swastika and the Communist hammer and sickle. And, if we’re going to be historically correct and objective, with the Christian cross and the crescent of Islam, both religious symbols used to subjugate and annihilate millions of non-believers down through the centuries, throughout the world. Perhaps in another posting I’ll delve deeper into the realm of religious conflagrations that continue to this day, in the case of Islam, for example, or the once daily strife in Northern Ireland, or the genocide in Bosnia. In the interim, you can look up the histories of numerous wars, invasions and mass murders done in the name of religion.

For now, let’s confine ourselves to the table talk discussion at hand, the meaning, and thus the fate, of the Confederate battle flag. Flying the flag, its supporters say, respects those who died fighting for the Confederacy, the heritage of the South, its history, its way of life. They reject any suggestion that it stands for racism, segregation and white supremacy. 

The flag went into battle, they say, in the War Between the States.

In not recognizing that conflict as The Civil War, they fail to understand and accept that the cause they so faithfully cherish was fought, and the soldiers who fell under its banner died, to preserve the right to own another human being! 

The whole foundation of the South was built on slavery. Today’s Republican electoral domination of the South is based on gerrymandered districts and restrictive voting rights laws that diminish the power of Afro-Americans. 

The Confederate battle flag has come to represent a distilled segment of disobedience, of rejection of the common good. Rebellion. A belief that majority rule does not apply if it undermines outdated, biased, principles. 

It is interesting to recall that during the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, or the resistance to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, no one, to my memory, ever rallied dissenters by waving the Confederate flag. Yet, when the nation finally started to recognize and do something about inequality in the 1950’s and into the 1960’s, the Confederate battle flag reappeared across the South. 

Coincidence? Hardly. The Stars and Bars were meant to send a signal that just as Afro-Americans were not equal citizens in the Old South their status would be no different in the New South.   

Anyone who defends the public showing of the Confederate flag except in a display inside a museum just doesn’t get it. And if they haven’t after all that happened in Charleston and around the country over the last year, they probably never will.