The Confederate flag: heritage or hate?

The Confederate flag continues to loom over I-75 in Tampa.

Tampa natives have probably witnessed the infamous Confederate flag looming over I-75, unavoidably consuming the view of all who speed by it. It’s known by various names, including the Rebel flag, but depending upon who is asked, its name may be uttered with either pride or disgust.

The Confederate flag debate is between those who argue that the flag is an emblem of the valiant cause their ancestors defended during the Civil War and those who say the flag is a hateful reminder of the deplorable practice of slavery, which the Confederacy fought to preserve.

However, many don’t know the Confederate flag was never the official banner of the South, but was one of dozens of Civil War battle flags.

According to John M. Coski – Historian and Vice President of Research and Publications of the Museum of the Confederacy in Virginia – Confederate Gen. Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard requested that every Confederate military regiment uniformly fly the flag during battle, but his request was largely dismissed. Instead, many southern regiments continued to fly their own distinct flags.

After the Civil War, the flag was almost obsolete until the 1930’s when the KKK and various fascist groups began using the Confederate flag in ceremonies. By the 1950’s it became common to see the combined celebration of the Confederate flag and the Nazi regime’s swastika, according to Coski’s Harvard Press book The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem. It is no coincidence the two symbols resurfaced together at Charlottesville’s “Unite the Right” rally. The partnership between Nazism and the Confederate flag is decades old.

The flag’s history and use are inextricably connected to hate and discrimination.

But does this necessarily mean every single person who proudly displays the Confederate flag as a part of their southern heritage is an evil racist? No, it doesn’t. Many people are simply misinformed about the flag’s past and fly it with the sole intention of displaying their pride as rebellious southerners.

Regardless of whether its suporters hoist the Confederate flag out of malice or pride, research indicates opinions on the flag differ starkly depending upon the extent of racial oppression one has endured.

According to a recent poll conducted by CNN’s Polling Director, Jennifer Agiesta, 72 percent of African-Americans perceive the Confederate flag as a symbol of racism, while only 25 percent of white Americans do.

An additional poll concentrating solely on the South’s general perception of the flag revealed that 75 percent of African-Americans deem the Confederate flag as racist, though a mere 11 percent consider it a symbol of pride.  In sharp contrast, 75 percent of white southerners view the flag as an icon of pride, while just 18 percent associate it with racism.

There is a racial divide in how the flag is perceived, particularly in the South, the region with the most work to do to combat the institutional and social remnants of slavery.

This discrepancy suggests that people flaunting the Confederate flag are in a position of  privilege due to their race: They can celebrate it because they cannot relate to racial oppression. They aren’t reminded of their ancestors being dehumanized, nor are they still faced with tremendous acts of discrimination the way people of color are in the U.S.

Although the majority of white southerners do not associate the Confederate flag with racism, the flag’s historical use — in defense of slavery during sporadic Civil War battles, in partnership with Nazis and the KKK, and most recently at Unite The Right — demonstrates that the flag is deeply rooted in white supremacy and hate. Perhaps it is time the South let the flag go and adopt an emblem with a less malicious history.