Cultural Appropriation and the Confederate Flag

July 16, 2015


Don't be the kind of cultural appropriator that everyone loves to hate.  If you're not willing to tow the line for what it means to be a Southerner, then stop acting like you care.

Don’t be the kind of cultural appropriator that everyone loves to hate. If you’re not willing to tow the line for what it means to be a Southerner, then stop acting like you care.

Americans are having a national debate about the symbolism of the Confederate battle flag, but it’s the wrong debate being performed by the wrong people.

This renewed controversy about the Confederate battle flag, in all its variations, has brought about some interesting arguments and comparisons.  The flag’s opponents want to have an open and critical dialogue on the matter, but there are some important things for them to consider before going too far afield.

The Confederate battle flag is “nation wide” now.  The Stars and Bars have become the symbol of resistance for white people all across the country, and it continues to be a loved symbol even in South America.  However, the manner in which people are using the Confederate flag nowadays would have made CSA Vice President A.H. Stephens roll in his grave (provided that somebody doesn’t decide to dig him up under cover of darkness.)

But, how many of us really know what the flag of the Confederacy looked like?  I’ll bet that most people don’t have a clue.  The flag of the Confederacy was not what we’re arguing about right now.  The first Confederate National Flag consisted of,

“Three horizontal stripes of equal height, alternating red and white, with a blue square two-thirds the height of the flag as the canton. Inside the canton are white five-pointed stars of equal size, arranged in a circle and pointing outward.” [Wikipedia]

That’s what the flag of the Confederacy looked like.  What politicians and liberals are arguing about banning right isn’t even a historically accurate or relevant version of what was used by the Confederacy.  The current brouhaha is revolving around the Confederate Naval Jack.  A NAVAL JACK!  The flag that was until recently flown on the South Carolina capitol building’s grounds was used by the Army of Northern Virginia, and it wasn’t even used by the entirety of the CSA’s land army.

The argument at hand is many things, but it is also a perfect example of cultural appropriation.  People all over the country are trying to pick up the Confederate flag, or some variation of it, and use it as their own symbol for something that it was never intended.  I’m going to say it for the record: white people can commit cultural appropriation against other white people.  I’m not sure that cultural appropriation is specifically “bad,” I just think it’s something that happens as a consequence of two or more different ethnic or racial groups being close to each other.

 I’m sure we can find some instances of somebody, like, let’s say, Justin Bieber, using a stereotyped white trash outfit as a tool to express himself with in a public meeting, and while it might be disingenuous and insulting to those who regularly use overalls as part of their daily work routine I don’t think it’s worth getting as worked up over as Tumblr says we should.  According to Wikipedia, cultural appropriation is,

“… the adoption of elements of one culture by members of a different cultural group, especially if the adoption is of an oppressed people’s cultural elements by members of the dominant culture. Cultural appropriation may eventually lead to the imitating group being seen as the new face of said cultural practices. As minority cultures are imitated by the dominant culture, observers may begin to falsely associate certain cultural practices with the imitating culture, and not with the people who originated them. This is often seen in cultural outsiders’ use of an oppressed culture’s symbols or other cultural elements, such as music, dance, spiritual ceremonies, modes of dress, speech and social behaviour, among other cultural expressions.” [Wikipedia] (emphasis added)

That’s exactly what is happening here.  You would think that the Left would have a better grasp of this situation since they never miss a beat to attack white people for alleged micro-aggressions or appropriating culture from non-white people, but it’s lost on them.  If they realized what was happening they would know better than to get so worked up like this.

White people, some of whom have zero relation to Confederate veterans nor the South land are taking the flag as a symbol to rally under.  The flag is a symbol for cultural identity, just not the one the Left needs it to be, and that’s why there is a push-back from a large section of White America.  The people who are adopting the flag are appropriating it and using it to express or stand for something different than what it was originally intended.  Thus, the Left’s attack on the Confederate flag isn’t even an attack on the Confederacy or its values, but against white people trying to create a pan-American white identity.

When the Left fights against the Confederate flag they think they’re fighting against a remnant of the Confederacy.  When white people pick up any of the Confederate flags as an expression of identity or cultural values they think they’re promoting and defending something different.  Very few of the people at Confederate flag rallies have a strong grasp of what was happening in the South during the Civil War;  Very few of the people at Confederate flag rallies have any relation or association to Confederate veterans.  The one thing that all white people at Confederate flag rallies do understand is the need for white unity, that’s what this argument should be about.

The Confederate flag is a tool that we use for expressing ourselves and something about our own identity.  If we use the tool incorrectly or in ways that it wasn’t originally intended we can end up hurting ourselves or others in the process.  If you carry a battle flag into public and aren’t going to battle somebody when they steal it from you, then you’re “doing it wrong.”

White people across America who feel compelled to defend parts of their culture and identity need a flag to rally under.  However, the Confederate flag is not a one-size-fits-all tool for expression, and if you aren’t going to defend the Southern way of life you need to stop using it right now.  Southerners do not want, need or appreciate weak-willed men and women from other parts of the country watering down what it means to be a Southerner.

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