Wa(i)ving Meaning, or How to Tell Everyone That You Hate Them

Flags. They seem harmless enough. I was going to write this post about bad drivers, but while driving around my hometown today, something caught my eye; it was a dilapitated house with rotting navy and forest green siding, and on its porch hung four flags: the American flag, a German flag, a confederate flag, and another flag I didn’t recognize that had a bald Eagle and a smaller version of the confederate flag.

My gut reaction was to sneer at the house from my car. This is the normal reaction for me when I see a confederate flag, pretty much without fail. The confederate flag in general confuses me, particularly the range of meaning people attribute to it. To me, at least, it represents the idea of a nation, separate from the Union, and based on an economy that relied primarily on the slavery of black people. Often times I hear people say it represents ‘freedom’ or a certain ‘way of life.’ The first is just laughably ironic and the second makes my stomach turn over – I really don’t think it is necessary to explain why.

But this house made me stop for a moment; there were so many competing notions of nations, of freedom or individual rights, of government, and what is most interesting is the relationship between these representations.

I thought it interesting (and more than a little odd) that this guy would bear the U.S. flag alongside a German flag. I lived with a couple of guys who were intent on hanging a German flag in our living room when I was a sophomore, and it always made me uncomfortable. While I’m German, I also recognize the taboo of being proud of being German. We, to put it mildly, have a lot of shit to atone for.  And it caused me to question bringing my Jewish boyfriend to my house, because I wasn’t sure how to make sense of a pride that is so wrapped up in a complex history of hate and violence.  Oy!

For me, on many levels, American pride and German pride can seem contradictory. Not only did our nations engage in hostile battle for the better part of two world wars, but the abundance and cultivation of American pride seems so contradictory to the way Germans approach a sense of national identity.
Which brings me to the crux of this post: national pride and the Confederate flag.

Newsflash, Redneck America: the Confederacy is dead. It’s been dead for 150 years. Stop celebrating a failure of a “nation” and stop celebrating a way of life that has been deemed socially unacceptable by the court of public opinion for 50 years. Say what you will about the meaning of the Confederate flag, that it stands for freedom and individual liberty, but to the majority of people living in this nation it means individual liberty for white, property owning males. Face it, that leaves a lot of us out.

So, to be clear, stop with the Confederate flag bullshit. And don’t wave it high alongside the American flag. It really just makes you look like an ignoramus  because it screams “RACIST!” to any self-respecting, intelligent citizen, but also because those, taken together, don’t paint a coherent narrative. You can’t have a land of the free and a home of the brave when people hide their hate behind some kind of pseudo-pride for a nation that no longer exists.

So to you, dear proponent of the confederacy, no. You need a history lesson. And a lesson in humanity.

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