About this Blog

The title of this blog, "I'm About to do My Thing," was inspired by Jill Scott's introduction to her poem "The Thickness" from her live album Experience: Jill Scott 826+. In this intro, she warns that the content to follow is "real" and proceeds to deliver a beautiful message about self-esteem in young black girls, what can influence and damage that self-esteem, and the entire village's responsibility--"it takes a village"--to elevate its children.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Confederate Flags and Consumers

I know. I've been gone for a minute, and I've missed writing my ideas down. As an idea magnet, I've struggled with balancing my time as a working mommy to a 1-year-old (post forthcoming about Mini Mo's debut into toddlerhood!) and a now-16-year-old and blogging. To those who have the balance down, give me tips!

As for today's post, I need to make it clear that I am a native Alabamian. Therefore, Confederate flags are as common to me as sweet tea and hearing/saying, "y'all." From t-shirts and jackets to vehicular vanity plates and full-sized flags in front of buildings, Confederate flags are ubiquitous. Hey, even the Alabama State Flag itself incorporates the Confederate Flag.

However, it's the flag I noticed in front of a business site for a local marble and granite shop and a trailer seller that raised questions for me, one in particular: What is this flag supposed to communicate to a potential customer?

I don't know which business is sporting this flag or who owns it, but in pondering this question, I thought about what that flag connotes in general, for a wide range of people:
  1. For many black people I know, it means racism, period, and calls to mind lynch mobs, white hoods, and burning crosses.
  2. For other people I know, it means Southern pride and heritage and recalls a history of states defending their rights. (Rights to what? That's debatable, kinda.) The Alabama state motto is Audemus Jura Nostra Defendere, Latin for "We dare to defend [or to maintain] our rights."
There may be other connotations, but these are the two most common, in my experience. Yet, there are entities today, classified as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), that use this flag to represent their causes as well.

Kirk Lyons at neo-Confederate rally
Kirk Lyons marches at a 2003 neo-Confederate rally in Richmond, Va.
Check out the interesting participant on the right side of the photo.
Courtesy of splcenter.org
A prominent one is the League of the South (LS), identified by the SPLC as a Neo-Confederate organization. Check out some sentiments from LS members, as reported on the SPLC's website within its "Intelligence Files":
“Somebody needs to say a good word for slavery. Where in the world are the Negroes better off today than in America?”— Jack Kershaw, League of the South board member, 1998
“[T]he Southern League supports a return to a political and social system based on kith and kin rather than an impersonal state wedded to the idea of the universal rights of man. At its core is a European population.”— Michael Hill, essay on League of the South website, 2000 
Now, these statements from LS  members seem to contradict this statement from the LS's official website, DixieNet.org, on its FAQ page:

Q:What is the LS position regarding blacks in the South?
A: The LS disavows a spirit of malice and extends an offer of good will and cooperation to Southern blacks in areas where we can work together as Christians to make life better for all people in the South. We affirm that, while historically the interests of Southern blacks and whites have been in part antagonistic, true Constitutional government would provide protection to all law-abiding citizens — not just to government-sponsored victim groups.
These few examples illustrate, to me, that the placing of a Confederate flag in front of a business location sends mixed signals. Does the owner anticipate only certain kinds of clientele? Should the potential customer interpret the flag's presence to mean only "Southern pride" or something else? I don't have the answers, but I bet many folks find it alienating. Given our state's history, I'd be inclined to look elsewhere for my granite countertop or trailer. What does the Confederate flag mean to you?

4 comments:

  1. I'm a Southern white girl who sees the Confederate flag as representative of racism. I am not sure precisely which rights Southern neo-Confederates claim to be defending (or even which ones the state of Alabama "dares" to defend...seems...a strange turn of phrase), but I hear loud and clear certain rights that were stripped away from the rich white folks.

    You know, the state of Georgia once had the Confederate flag incorporated within its state flag. It was removed in 2001, replaced with a god-awful flag until 2003, and then the new Georgia state flag was voted upon by the people in 2003. Ironic thing? The current Georgia state flag resembles the first Confederate army national flag. So...you know...the connection is still there; it's just not as obvious (unless you just read the article on Wikipedia, like I did....)

    So, bottom line: there is little that I take pride in from my Southern heritage, truth be told. (That statement has gotten me into more than one fight in my life...but I believe in honesty.) The Confederate flag is emblematic to me of a culture that once valued white supremacy over all other races, in particular over the black population. It is not an inviting flag. It is not a flag that welcomes. It is a flag that divides, holds at arms length, and provokes.

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  2. Oh, and in response to the issue of a business displaying this flag? I have shopped in stores where the flag is displayed somewhere (typically behind the register, but not usually very prominently). If I see the flag before I make my purchase, then I leave empty-handed. If I see the flag as I'm making my purchase, I feel ill and wonder if my patronizing of this business indicates that I tacitly support the views and opinions of the shop owner. I know we live in a free country where people are welcome to "let their freak flag fly," as it were...but sometimes you have to wonder what the cost is. Maybe they don't need my business, so it doesn't matter that I won't buy my granite countertop from them. But it sure does make one wonder if the owners ever stop to think about the impact their freedom of speech may be having on alienating their clientele.

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  3. AHab- well said! Mo - as I said the other night, there is only one interpretation up here: racism and white supremacy. However, notwithstanding AHab's excellent insights, I do think that there might be room for multiple meanings in the South where this flag was born. Now, might those who declare it is "about states' rights!" And not about slavery/white supremacy, etc, be purposefully disconnecting their interpretation from the historical reality? Sure, I think people do that all the time with symbols- either purposely or ignorantly ignoring problematic connotations and historical reality just because they think the symbol is "cool," no matter who it might hurt. As for a business flying the flag? In comparison, I think of a business plastered with political signs of the person you aren't voting for...not the same history, but still potentially alienating to a segment of the audience. Perhaps the owner doesn't care. Perhaps the owner truly doesn't believe that there would/should be a problem and his/her use of that flag wouldn't turn away any customers because needing a quality trailer is more important than something silly like negative interpretation of a symbol. In the case of this business, and the businesses I see plastering political signs, I tend to believe they just don't care - they don't want my business. To me, that's loud and clear. To someone else who isn't as aware of such symbols, it might not register. It's about knowing your audience...so perhaps that particular owner knows HIS audience...and you aren't part of it. ;)

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  4. Ladies, thank you so much for your thoughtful comments! I agree with the idea that the owner probably doesn't care and feels he/she has enough business without worrying about those who may be offended by the flag.

    Interestingly, since the organization I point out here--the League of the South--is a secessionist organization, I wonder how many people link this neo-Confederate use of the flag with the post-election secessionist fervor.

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