Kwame S. Salter
Flags are imbued with the values, sentiments and aspirations of whoever honors and flies them. A flag is a visible and material reminder of what a particular group stands for or values.
Flags can evoke passionate emotions. Flags carry a very loud, non-verbal, yet specific and irreducible message.
In the US, the American flag carries the message that we stand for truth, justice and democracy.
However, in other places around the world, our flag carries the message that we are there to impose our way of life and values on the indigenous population, whether they like it or not. Flags are not value-neutral. Flags say what they mean and mean what they say.
The recent flap surrounding the Confederate flag is all the more surprising because we all know what it stood for and still stands for today. It does not represent youthful rebelliousness; nor does it truly represent the heritage of a particular American region. Most importantly, it does not represent truth, justice and freedom.
Put simply, it is the musty artifact of a defeated insurrection against our government. What the Confederate flag represents is the attempted perpetual dominion of one group of human beings over another group. The cry of the secessionist southern states preceded George Wallace’s “Segregation now, segregation forever.” Instead, the rallying cry of the boys in gray was,”Slavery Now. Slavery Forever.”
Prior to the Great Migration of the 1940s, the majority of African-Americans had toiled, been lynched, dehumanized and marginalized in the South. While their experience differed markedly from Whites in the South, Southern Blacks have as much of a claim to Southern heritage as their more privileged White brethren.
Attempt to dominate
So, the argument that the Confederate flag is a symbol of Southern heritage is tantamount to saying that the Nazi swastika represented German heritage. Lest we forget, Jewish people in Germany were Germans. Both the swastika and the Confederate flag represent a failed attempt to either eliminate a group of people or, in the case of Blacks, to keep them as chattel property. Both flags are abhorrent reminders of man’s inhumanity to man.
For over 150 years, the victorious North has mollycoddled and enabled the defeated White South. Our central government allowed the wholesale disenfranchisement of Black Southerners, thus allowing White Southern racists to control the most powerful committees in our national Congress.
We permitted the construction of statues lining the streets of Richmond, Va., Charleston, S.C., and other Southern cities paying homage to ‘war heroes’ intent on keeping my people in bondage. Every day of a Black southerner’s life, he or she must be reminded of those very men who sought to keep them as work animals. That’s akin to having statues of Hitler and his generals lining the boulevards of Berlin.
The Confederate flag is not the symbol real Rebels should adorn their homes and clothes with to assert their independence. How about hoisting the American flag –the real Rebel flag?
While not always perfect in living up to it, the genesis of our national flag grew out of an aspirational vision: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal. Endowed by the creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty and pursuit of happiness…”
Kwame S. Salter is president of The Salter Group LLC, and the author of two books including “Striving While Black.” His website: www.talenttrumps.com.