Further Responses on the Confederate Flag

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by Zack Furness, Robert Soza, and Carrie Rentschler

Zack Furness:

I don't entirely agree with Victoria Simmons' analysis.

The "personal" reasons that she cites for displaying the flag, though interesting, actually support Carrie's initial reading of the flag as an expression of white masculinity, rather than challenging it. That is to say, the distinction over racist intent is well worth pointing out, but the luxury of never having to consider the racial (or gendered) implications of certain behaviors, display practices, or statements is one that white men almost exclusively enjoy. Tn fact, there are many young men in the South who would use the exact same logic to justify their own display of the confederate flag, particularly it's connection with southern rock‑‑also a supremely white male genre that emerged in marked contrast to the African American and interracial rock bands of a previous era (blues and jazz bands as well). Whether white guys are embracing the flag because of racism or because of their personal connection to another exclusively white male art form doesn't change the fact that the flag is still tied to white masculinity (amongst other forms of white identity). The situation may be more nuanced than Carrie makes it out to be (I'm speculating because i haven't read it in a while), but it doesn't change the substance of her argument.

On a different note, it goes without saying that literally asking every young white guy why they display the confederate flag is not only impossible, but will most likely yield an inaccurate and untruthful set of responses‑‑particularly from guys who may be racist but ultimately lack the chutzpah associated with the "in your fucking face" racism of neo‑Nazis or the Klan. And this is to say nothing of people's general hesitancy to reveal their personal beliefs and opinions to academic researchers or research journalists‑‑this is a different methodological issue altogether, but one that the author alludes to in assuming that personal interviews necessarily yield the truth.

My biggest critique, however, is that when she refers to an expression of working class masculine identity, that "just happens to be white", she's relying on what is probably the most frequently used apology for structural racism that exists in the United States; it is the default thesis of white privilege.

• "Bad" neighborhoods "just so happen" to be black.

• The people that the US perpetually bomb "just so happen" to be brown.

• 99% of people in high positions of political/economic power "just so happen" to be white...

You get my point.

Finally, I think the ways that people have toyed with the flag's aesthetics and "hacked" its meaning are interesting and I'm glad the author (Simmons) brought them up. But they also reveal the extent to which that the confederate flag can't be used to express anything other than white racism unless it is appropriated, jammed or re‑worked. I think burning it, along with the rest of the flags in this world, is a step in the right direction; though I'd settle for simply removing it from the top of state capitol buildings. At the very least, I'd settle for living in a culture where white "rockers" aren't as politically ignorant as their stadium rock is shitty. But that's a different story.

Zack Furness

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Robert Soza:

I think that the swastika and the good ole' stars and bars are more or less the same thing (and obviously I am very aware of the distinct historical differences, but at some point, white supremacy enshrined in law and custom is just white supremacy enshrined in law and custom). I share Zack's concerns that the de‑racing, or the evacuation of the stars and bars' white supremacists overtones, is a privileged move, and one that is arguably ethno‑centric‑‑and, again, as Zack points out, only one that those in power get to play. That said, I think this is a discussion worth having.

Robert Soza

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Carrie Rentschler:

Well, Victoria Simmons has a point, but I really wasn't interested in people's consciousness about the flag, or how they talked about it, particularly since there isn't much of a language here for talking about whiteness and white supremacy, despite its presence in Quebec.

What I love, however, is that three years after I wrote that piece, someone still cared enough, was pissed off enough, to write such a long and careful reply.

Carrie Rentschler

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