Opinion: Americans Can't Deny the Confederate Flag is a Racist Symbol

Walter Rhein

Photo byWalter Rhein

At some point, the United States of America will have to come to terms with the flaws of its history. It is possible to have pride in your nation and still recognize the mistakes of the past.

The simple fact is that racism is a major problem in the United States. Many people fly symbols of racism openly. People will say that the Confederate flag represents “tradition” or that it represents “history.” But these arguments don’t refute the reality that it also stands for racism. Symbols can have more than one meaning.

Before the Nazi regime, the swastika was a well-known symbol among many cultures. It would be absurd to deny that the swastika now stands for racism just because it has historically had other meanings.

Some things aren’t going to go away just because you deny they exist. For example, the national debt is more than thirty trillion dollars. Much of that was added by an insurrectionist president who claimed to come from the party of fiscal responsibility. In reality, Democrats are more likely to reduce the deficit.

Quite often, Americans believe the opposite of what is true.

We’re fighting an uphill battle on the issue of the Confederate flag because many history textbooks teach a sanitized version of history. Many textbooks try to claim that the Civil War was fought over states’ rights, or taxation, rather than slavery.

All you have to do is look at the original letters of secession from the Confederate states to find proof that the Civil War was fought over slavery. The Cornerstone Speech by Confederate Vice-President Alexander H. Stephens is a deplorable argument for white supremacy.

The people who say, “Don’t erase history” are the ones who truly try to erase history. All you have to do to is read the historical documents penned by the people of the time and the truth will become clear to you.

When you study history, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the United States blundered during the reconstruction period after the Civil War. Prominent politicians of the Confederacy should not have been allowed to run for office again. Nevertheless, Alexander H. Stephens was elected to the Senate after the Civil War though he wasn’t allowed to take the seat.

Perhaps the United States of America would be in a better position if Lincoln had survived to oversee the reconstruction era. Unfortunately, a Confederate sympathizer succeeded in assassinating Lincoln. To this day there are places in the United States that shamefully celebrate Lincoln’s assassination.

Think about that for a moment. Think of how Americans are trained to react to public demonstrations. When Colin Kaepernick respectfully kneeled during the National Anthem on the advice of a retired veteran, the nation became affronted. However, at the same time, there are places in the United States that celebrate the assassination of our nation’s greatest president and nobody says anything.

Doesn’t that seem a little disproportionate?

Perhaps Lincoln would have done a better job reconciling the United States after the Civil War. Perhaps the reparations that were promised would have been distributed to the formerly enslaved.

Instead, a group of disgruntled Confederate soldiers was free to go off into the woods and form a secret club that would become the KKK. The KKK would then evolve into an organization of domestic terrorism.

During the 1920s, the KKK became the Christian morality police. They’d punish innocent people for things like not going to church. All of this is part of the legacy of the Confederate flag.

I see a lot of similarities between the KKK and today’s MAGA crowd. Many disgruntled people in the United States refuse to recognize the South lost the Civil War. Many disgruntled people in the United States refuse to recognize their candidate lost the 2020 election.

Those people marched on the Capitol. Some of those people carried the Confederate flag.

I can already anticipate that people will comment on this article and tell me to go and read a history textbook. What they don’t understand is that reading a history textbook is part of the problem. Many of the history textbooks in the United States contain the inaccurate “Lost Cause” narrative.

Instead of reading a textbook, I suggest you go and read the original documents. Go and read the true history of this country.

We can’t erase the history of what the Confederate flag stands for. I only wish more citizens of the United States of America bothered to educate themselves on the truth.

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Walter Rhein is an author with Perseid Press. He also does a weekly column for The Writing Cooperative on Medium.

Chippewa Falls, WI

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