If You Want to Get Rid of ‘Racist Flags,’ How About Starting with the American Flag?

It looks like open season has been declared on the battle flag of Army of Northern Virginia, which is commonly referred to as the Confederate battle flag. But, if you are looking for a flag to ban as racist, you might as well start with the American flag.

After all, the American flag is associated with the United States government that sanctioned slavery from the enactment of the US Constitution in 1789 to the addition of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in December of 1865 — months after the end of the war with the Confederate States. The CS government, in comparison, existed for less than five years, with slavery legal the entire time.

The American flag flies now for a government whose drug war and larger law enforcement system is responsible for black Americans being harassed, arrested, and incarcerated in extraordinary numbers. Remember the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution makes an exception to allow slavery as “a punishment for crime.” This is an exception that has been employed much in America recently, with the number of people incarcerated in prisons and jails growing five-fold in the last thirty years.

Of course, the Confederate battle flag opponents come out every four years to yell out “gotcha, you’re a racist!” at any presidential candidate who refuses to recite that the South Carolina government should remove the “racist” Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the state capitol building. This occurs again and again despite the fact that the flag’s presence is a state matter over which the US president has no role in deciding.

The killing of several people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina last week has helped inflame the quadrennial attacks on the Confederate battle flag.

Some people even believe the root cause of the killings resides in a statewide hatred of back people that is interwoven with the fabric of that Confederate battle flag flying on the state capitol grounds.

It is not too surprising to see film director Michael Moore’s vehement comments calling for someone to tear down the Confederate battle flag on the South Carolina capitol grounds and relating the flag’s presence to the killings. His comments are one sample of the torrent of similar comments being made since the killings.

Over at The Intercept, Jon Schwarz does not want to stop at taking down one flag. Schwarz writes that taking down the Confederate battle flag at the South Carolina capitol grounds “seems like a good start, but maybe not the place to end.” Schwarz lists six additional cultural items to purge from the state — three statues, the name of a street in Charleston, the Charleston city seal, and the South Carolina state flag. He doesn’t claim that any of these cultural items say anything explicitly racist. Rather, he says they all have some connection to slavery.

Schwarz sees this purge of his listed cultural items as just a start. Indeed, he is seeking suggestions for expanding the purge list:

I’m sure there’s much more that could be added to this list. If you’re from South Carolina and would like to make some suggestions, please get in touch. (Also please get in touch if you have any ideas for getting Andrew Jackson off our money.)

As alluded to in the Andrew Jackson reference, Schwarz’s desired purge goes far beyond South Carolina. As he says, “every other place in America also celebrates the ugliest parts of our past.”

It is doubtful that a very high percentage of people looking at a twenty dollar bill or one of the statues Schwarz wants removed from South Carolina are celebrating the most inhumane things the individuals represented, did, or may be associated with. Some people take in the aesthetic and leave it at that. Some people ponder the times during which the individuals represented lived. Some people curse or celebrate the individuals represented. Different strokes for different folks.

The call for a widespread elimination of cultural items that may cause some people discomfort because of a relationship to slavery — and potentially a much longer list of verboten people, occurrences, and beliefs — brings to mind the destruction of cultural items in war. Addressing the intentional destruction of cultural items by the Islamic State (ISIS), Sturt W. Manning, the director of the Cornell Institute of Archaeology and Material Studies and professor of classical architecture at Cornell University, explains:

All attacks on archaeological sites and artifacts are brutal assaults on our collective human memory. They deprive us of the evidence of human endeavors and achievements.

The destruction eloquently speaks of the human folly and senseless violence that drives ISIS. The terror group is destroying the evidence of the great history of Iraq; it has to, as this history attests to a rich alternative to its barbaric nihilism.

While the sought purge of cultural items in South Carolina and throughout America is different in many ways from the destruction of cultural items pursued by ISIS, Manning’s observations suggest some important similarities. In America such cultural cleansing similarly threatens to obliterate Americans’ “memories” and the evidence of history. The whitewashing also attempts to alter the American narrative to remove the alternatives, with their both good and bad aspects, that may be suggested by the purged cultural items.

The German government’s attack on “degenerate art” in the 1930s and ‘40s is an illustrative example of the systematic destruction of cultural items.

Many people will find more surprising than Moore and Schwarz’s comments the articles by writers identified with libertarianism who single out the Confederate battle flag as universally conveying a predominantly or solely racist message.

Continue reading at the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.

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