Stars, Bars and Me


Dennis Sanders

Dennis is the pastor of a small Protestant congregation outside St. Paul, MN and also a part-time communications consultant. A native of Michigan, you can check out his writings over on Medium and subscribe to his Substack newsletter on religion and politics called Polite Company.  Dennis lives in Minneapolis with his husband Daniel.

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86 Responses

  1. Avatar Francis says:

    “South Carolina has been doing things right, to the chagrin of Northern states” Chagrin?

    Two points:

    A. I didn’t know that whole states had feelings.

    B. I really dislike this ongoing sense of victimization, where the collective mass of (presumably liberal) northerners are supposedly sad/embarrassed/shocked/chagrinned when something good happens in the South. That’s grossly unfair, not to mention unsupported by any evidence. Do you have even a shred of evidence (polling, for example) that liberal northerners / all northerners are feeling chagrin because a South Carolina city is doing the right thing?

    Can’t I just be disappointed in the conduct of some politicians and police officers from northern states and happy that the North Charleston establishment is taking a different path? Does it have to be a North v South thing?Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Francis says:

      This New Yorker was delighted than Slager was prosecuted.

      Actions speak more than symbols. But what happens when symbols motivate actions?Report

      • Avatar Dennis Sanders in reply to Kazzy says:

        But did the flag motivate him? I’m not sure.Report

        • Avatar nevermoor in reply to Dennis Sanders says:

          Can you say the odds are 0%, either about him or future racially motivated crimes?

          Unless you can, isn’t the answer easy?Report

        • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to Dennis Sanders says:

          I think that people who point to the flag as a motivating factor are almost certainly confusing cause and effect. The flag seems like a symptom of a cultural problem, not the problem itself. If that cultural problem went away, the symbols would go away with it. I don’t think it works the other way around.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Troublesome Frog says:


            I think, in general, it flows both ways. The underlying culture creates a desire for symbols that reflect it and the symbols reinforce the culture.

            Imagine, if you will, a young child seeing the flag flying on Capitol grounds for the first time. He asks his father what the flag is, since to this point he is only familiar with the US flag. The father informs him that it is a flag used by the Confederate states during the Civil War. A little while down the road, that child learns that the Civil War was fought over the issue of slavery. He now puts two and two together — as young children are apt to do — and concludes that that flag represents the pro-slavery side of a war and that his home state still flies it, ergo there still exists a pro-slavery position.

            Now, this might seem crazy… but I can tell you that is how children gain their understanding of the world. So, yes, it is very possible that that flag can motivate actions AND perpetuate the culture into future generations.

            I think it depends on how we define “motivate”. Did Islam motivate the 9/11 terrorists?Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:


              The underlying culture creates a desire for symbols that reflect it and the symbols reinforce the culture.

              Yes. I think that’s right. I mean, the civil war ended 150 years ago, yeah?, so why (or what) is the confederate flag viewed as a symbol of in contemporary times? It seems to me that that symbol can act as a cause in not only reaffirming but also shaping certain people’s beliefs. (Otherwise, why have the symbol anymore, let alone the emotional attachment to it?)Report

            • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Kazzy says:


              “The underlying culture creates a desire for symbols that reflect it and the symbols reinforce the culture.”

              And by culture you of course mean Southern Racist culture…rightReport

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mike Dwyer says:


                I mean that in general. All cultures have symbols. Humans are unique among animals in our capacity for symbolic thought.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Kazzy says:

                Slight pedantry, but I am pretty sure symbolic thinking has been indicated in at least some of the primates (chimps, gorillas, and maybe even monkeys). Not sure about other animals.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Glyph says:

                There are two separate questions: do they have the capacity for symbolic thought? The answer to that question is yes for both higher primates and monkeys, toothed whales (at the very least orcas and some dolphins), and some birds can be trained by humans to use human-like symbols. The other, more important and revealing question is do they use symbols “naturally,” that is without human training? The answer to that question, while still being sorted out, will almost certainly show that symbolic thought is common throughout much of the animal kingdom, spanning songbirds to octopodes (yes, I said octopodes, damn it). The problem, of course, is that the further away we get from human-like thinking and perceiving (which you might still have in chimps and dolphins and even African Greys), the harder it is to measure this sort of thing. How do you measure “symbolic thought” in an animal with much of its brain, and perhaps even its vision, distributed through its body (as in the octopus)?

                Anyway, I realize this is not even remotely related to the topic of the post, so I’ll stop now.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Chris says:

                [Apologies for continued sidebar]

                I guess it also depends on how you define “symbol” – upon returning to the hive from a successful nectar run, foraging bees do a “dance”, which supposedly communicates to the other bees where flowers with nectar can be found.

                Is a dance step a “symbol”? I mean, if a step (or a series of them) means “turn left at the big tree” or some equivalent, it’d have to be, right?


              • Avatar Chris in reply to Glyph says:

                It’s not just a symbol, it’s a symbol system with syntax for determining order. That may be pretty rare.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Glyph says:

                I should have known to check with @chris before throwing that out there. Clearly I need to go back to grad school.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Kazzy says:

                Nah. We may not be the only animals that (can) think with symbols, but we’re definitely the only ones that build complex, multi-generational symbol systems that allow us to continually build up our individual and collective knowledge of ourselves and the world culturally.

                Which I assume is what you were getting at.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris says:


                Yes and no. I was thinking about the point when children achieve the ability to think symbolically and to attach an abstract or non-inherent meaning to an object or thing. I didn’t know other species can do this.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Kazzy says:

                Ah, yeah. Most of the theories of what separate us from the beasts have turned out to be wrong. I even co-authored a short paper on the subject several years ago, and it’s almost certainly wrong.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris says:


                Symbolic/abstract though is such an interesting topic. I remember being shocked to learn that really young children can’t engage in pretend play because they haven’t yet attained this ability, which is necessary in order to pretend. All we think of young children doing is pretending. Intuitively, it made no sense. But that is partly because we just lump all kids under, say, 8 into on category and conflate their abilities/developmental stages. When a two-year-old puts a rectangular block* to his ear for the first time and pretends it is a phone, it is actually a monumental developmental milestone.

                * Actually, at this point, a rectangular block might not require much symbolic thought as so many phones are little more than rectangular blocks. You can tell I studied this and developed all my little internal models back in the early Aughts.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Kazzy says:


                But the Confederate flag isn’t a symbol of, say, white racism towards Puerto Ricans in the North. Or Native American racism towards Mexicans in the Southwest. So you’re not speaking in generalities, are you?Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mike Dwyer says:


                Dennis’s argument seems to be that symbols matter less than actions. Which I would agree with. But what happens when symbols motivate actions? That is my question. Whether we are talking about the flag, religious texts, or dead political leaders. Saying it’s “just” a flag/book/statue doesn’t really hold water when that flag/book/statue becomes a rallying cry for action. So I’m asking what we do when that happens… at what point does a symbol matter more than an action?

                So, yes, I am talking in generalities. I don’t know why you are bringing other arguments made in other places into the fray here.Report

            • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to Kazzy says:

              I think that symbolism matters because it’s part of a culture that people grow up in, but I also think that cultures have a way of finding symbols if there aren’t enough around. My theory is that the removal of one will just give rise to another without changing much else. We’ll know we’re on the right track when they decide to take it down on their own.

              Taking away the symbols feels to me like forcing a kid to apologize when he’s not sorry for what he did. There may be some legitimate childrearing reason for doing this that I’m not aware of, but having been on the receiving end of a lot of those apologies, they never felt like they helped anybody. I didn’t want to stand there and listen to a kid say some words he didn’t mean and probably resented. It always seemed like it taught the lesson that an apology was something you did to get out of trouble and wipe the slate clean, not away of communicating that you genuinely regret something.

              There may be some satisfaction in flexing muscle and seeing the other guy forced to pretend to be humble and say words he doesn’t want to say, but I just don’t think it helps in the long run.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Troublesome Frog says:


                I don’t think your forced apology analogy holds. It would work if we made those who support it flying come and take it down themselves. But I don’t think that is what anyone is advocating. Instead, as far as I’ve seen, those of us advocating for its removal from state grounds are arguing that the government should not endorse or fly this flag because doing so itself symbolizes something ugly. Furthermore, I’d argue that no governmental property or funds should go towards commemorating or celebrating the Confederacy in any way, shape, or form. Take down the statues from public grounds. Rename the streets and the schools. If private citizens wants to celebrate the Confederacy, go for it. No one (that I’m reading/hearing) is saying that such should be banned; only that the flag should be removed from SC Capitol grounds (with a smaller segment, including myself, arguing for further steps as I just outlined).Report

      • Avatar Will H. in reply to Kazzy says:

        Which flag is it that motivates all these sundown towns in Illinois?

        Where is all the valued symbolism– valued far higher than any manner of actual conduct– in this?

        Why is it that some can still– in the XXI century— speak proudly of arson of a mixed couples home? And what flag did they fly while doing so?Report

  2. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    Like Francis, I always wonder why this ends up becoming a North v. South territorial/tribe pissing match kind of thing.

    Damon could very well be right that the North and the South are really two different nations joined as one and these nations have very different cultures and social feelings. There are clearly very two different cultures around guns in the United States and this often appears to be more geographic than not. Not necessarily North v. South but close enough. The gun thing is probably city and blue-suburbs v. rural and red suburbs. There is plenty of gun culture in the rural parts of blue states and hunting. There are probably plenty of liberals in Charleston who have attitudes towards guns that are closer to San Francisco than not.

    What really seems to get to me is how the existence of Northern liberals especially of the upper-middle class sort is used as a shield for maintaining the status quo. People were insisting that the real reason the Confederate Flag was not take down was because of snobby Northern liberals who like to eat at farm-to-table restaurants, drink microbrews, listen to NPR, and watch Portlandia. This is absurd. Are there insufferable liberals? Yes! I can be one of them from time to time or frequently depending on who you ask. That does not mean there is a justification for keeping up the Confederate Flag. “But it pisses off Yankee Liberals” is rather weak tea.

    There seems to be something reflexively defensive in a lot of red-state culture. This sort of goes back to the frequent debates about why is there no conservative equivalent of the Daily Show. Liberals seem much better at making fun of their own excesses than Conservatives. Portlandia is pretty much all about making fun of college-educated middle-class liberals with Boho pretensions and desires. The show gets away with it because Carrie and Fred are making fun of themselves and they know it. With conservatives, there seems to be a need for nothing but positive feedback and approval.Report

    • Are there insufferable liberals? Yes!….That does not mean there is a justification for keeping up the Confederate Flag. “But it pisses off Yankee Liberals” is rather weak tea.

      To be fair, Dennis wasn’t justifying it at all.Report

    • Avatar Damon in reply to Saul Degraw says:


      Yes, in particular to gun culture, it’s not just a N vs S, rural, vs city, as there is lots of bleed over. Northern Virginia, for instance, is rather “blue” but I can’t tell you how many women I’ve met in that area that have guns or have used them. “There are probably plenty of liberals in Charleston who have attitudes towards guns that are closer to San Francisco than not.” Damn right.

      As to your comment, “That does not mean there is a justification for keeping up the Confederate Flag. “But it pisses off Yankee Liberals” is rather weak tea.” This is true, and that is part of the truth, but it’s not primarily just to piss liberals off. Those folks are so VERY tired of being blamed for crap that they had no part in-like slavery. That all southerners are racist rednecks, that “if we just got rid of all the guns”, etc. The constant assault (how they view it) of their culture, heritage, pastimes, etc. by blue staters, when all they really want is to be left the hell alone. That’s a lot of the reason why there is resistance to removing the stars and bars, and other things too. Liberal/blue staters keep pushing, pushing, like a parent telling a child how to act. THAT is the primary gripe. You keep pushing, and they keep pushing back.Report

      • Avatar LWA in reply to Damon says:

        This isn’t over what happened 150 years ago at Gettysburg.

        It isn’t even about what happened 50 years ago at Edmund Pettus Bridge.

        It isn’t even about what happened 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago.

        Its about what’s happening right this very moment, by the very people who are alive and walking around and creating websites called “Concerned Conservatives Council” or some such and invent phantom voter fraud as a way to keep black people from voting.

        The Stars and Bars flags weren’t erected by previous generations- they were erected and made a part of the “Culture” in the late 50’s and early 60’s, specifically and consciously in defense of racism.

        As I mentioned on the other thread if you don’t want your culture attacked, then don’t use it as a shield to protect racism.Report

        • Avatar Damon in reply to LWA says:

          I wasn’t talking about the “stars and bars” specifically, I was speaking to the idea that there ARE two cultures, at least, in this country. Yeah, I used that flag as an example, and guns too. I could have easily used “the redskins”. It’s generally a similar reaction. Sure, the flag has racist tones. That is, in part, one of the reasons it’s been used. It’s a push back.

          Funny thing is, as I’ve said before, I’ve seen more hostile racism in the mid atlantic from whites and blacks than I ever did anywhere else.Report

          • Avatar LWA in reply to Damon says:

            Sure, the flag has racist tones. That is, in part, one of the reasons it’s been used. It’s a push back.

            This is exactly the argument being used by Erick Erickson today at RedState, i.e., “yeah, its racist to fly it and an awful thing to do, but the liberals are being assholes about it so we are probably going to fly it precisely because of that, y’know, to piss them off and show that we won’t be bullied.”

            But, by God, stop treating us like petulant children.”

            This would be funny except that this flag is still, after all this talk, still the flag of a campaign of terror and injustice being perpetuated to this very day. And the fact that so many are willing to inflict this horror on people, just to flip a big Eff Yoo to the Yankees, makes me think that petulant children is the kindest characterization.Report

            • Avatar Damon in reply to LWA says:


              It is unfortunate. It’s a complex thing. It’s wrapped up in a lot of issues. Race, identity, the war, the loss, the terrorism inflicted by the north (sherman’s march ex). The clan, snooty city northerners. So much.

              I understand the attitude, because it’s frankly one I share on a lot of things. This is just a baaad manifestation. That’s to be expected in stuff like this. One day I hope it gets better.Report

              • Avatar nevermoor in reply to Damon says:

                the terrorism inflicted by the north (sherman’s march ex)

                [Citation needed]

                While supporting an army via forage and destroying militarily-relevant targets really sucks for civilians, it’s also how wars had been fought forever. Losing wars usually does suck, which is why armies often surrender before they are on the brink of destruction.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to nevermoor says:

                When they reached South Carolina, Sherman’s army began to act in ways that are best described as punitive. In Georgia, much less so, even if Georgians hate the man to this day because he did leave a trail of broken infrastructure and wasted farms behind him.

                The burning of Atlanta notwithstanding.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Chris says:

                In times of war, mercy itself can be a corrosive poison.
                Such is the state the South finds itself in, nearly two centuries later.Report

              • Avatar Pyre in reply to nevermoor says:

                Out of curiousity, how do you feel about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Pyre says:

                Why not go all-in and wonder how nevermoor feels about the Christmas Bombings which were a response to the US accepting the N. Vietnamese terms of surrender?Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Pyre says:

                I don’t recall a southerner ever comparing Sherman to the dropping of the bomb in Japan, and I’ve spent a lot of time in Georgia. That’s pretty awesome, though. I’ve always suggested that some southerners had no sense of perspective in large part because they know jack shit about what they’re talking about, they just know the valence of the myth. This is the best example yet.Report

              • Avatar Pyre in reply to Chris says:

                Actually, moron, I was just asking because he was citing an article that stated Sherman’s goal was to force noncombatants to feel the hard hand of war through shock and awe tactics and I was wondering if he felt the same about the use of atomic bombs to end the war in the Pacific which, even counting the firebombings, were the biggest use of Shock and Awe that the world has ever seen.

                But I guess even asking the question was too much for an ignorant little bigot like yourself.Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Pyre says:

                This comment violates our commenting policy. It would have been trivially easy to express frustration at your point being missed without resorting to personal insult.

                Consider this a warning.Report

              • Avatar nevermoor in reply to Pyre says:

                Two separate questions:

                1. Grant was primarily doing two things: (a) destroying militarily useful infrastructure like railroads and factories; (b) feeding his armies through forage, which is a polite way of saying by forcefully taking everything edible he passed by. Both are directly relevant to a (very successful!) military mission. He did not destroy much other property after Atlanta

                2. I am very thankful I wasn’t in Truman’s shoes when he made those calls. It’s a very close question in my mind, based on the assumptions that it saved a lot of American lives and that Japan wasn’t otherwise going to surrender short of an invasion of the island itself (which would have taken a long time and also resulted in many civilian casualties. Heck, it’s personal too as either/both of my wife’s grandfathers may not have come home in that scenario. That said, what Truman chose is much more like what Grant was accused of doing (but did not in fact do) than what Grant actually did.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Pyre says:

                Again, man, no sense of perspective. It is true that both Sherman and the Army Air Corps team that decided to use fire bombing in Japan and Germany (and Truman, who decided to drop the bomb), attempted to influence the civilian population to hasten the end of the war (the fire bombing was also seen as a strategic measure to decrease Japan’s productive capacity). However, Sherman generally didn’t target civilians (he fired thousands of shells into Atlanta, with maybe a dozen civilians killed, all unintentionally, despite Hood’s troops being located throughout the city) with attacks as the fire bombing and a-bomb attacks did. The attacks on Japan and Germany simply aren’t comparable.

                It’s possible that some of Sherman’s tactics, particularly in South Carolina, and particularly when he essentially ignored what his troops were doing, would be considered war crimes, but nothing comparable to the fire bombing of Japan or Germany, much less the atomic bomb, in which civilians were deliberately targeted by large-scale, deadly attacks.

                But I repeat myself.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Damon says:


                Did you really just compare the Klan with snooty city northerners?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Kazzy says:

                No, he’s just saying that snooty northerners are part of the problem here. Yankee snoot is just one of many legitimate things which shape southern culture!Report

              • Avatar Damon in reply to Kazzy says:

                Nope. I was listing some issues that are all wrapped up and incorporated into the flag–so good, so bad, some facts, some attitude.Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to Damon says:

                One would think such a strong independent people wouldn’t be so controlled by their antipathy towards Northern Snoot that they woudl be driven, against their own will and good sense, to embrace ideas they dislike.

                @damon Less snarkily, the serious hate of northerners in the south got a big push by those damn North Snooters opening up schools for freed slaves and letting them vote and buy property and crushing the Klan for the first time. Really read the history of Reconstruction. Yeah the proud Southrons hated the Northers but it was for giving freedom and help to freed slaves.Report

              • Avatar Damon in reply to greginak says:

                still not getting it.

                no worries…Report

      • Avatar Zac in reply to Damon says:

        Liberal/blue staters keep pushing, pushing, like a parent telling a child how to act. THAT is the primary gripe. You keep pushing, and they keep pushing back.

        Well, if they wouldn’t keep acting like petulant children, we wouldn’t keep having to push.Report

        • Avatar Damon in reply to Zac says:

          If you would mind your own damn business and stay out of mine instead of acting like my parent, which you aren’t, we’d get along better.

          Pot, kettle.Report

          • Avatar nevermoor in reply to Damon says:

            You might not be pissed off, but SC’s governor wouldn’t have come out against the flag. And a lot of people living in that state would have been pissed off about that.Report

            • Avatar Damon in reply to nevermoor says:

              Yes, I’m intersted to see what happens to those elected officials that got on the “ban the flag” bandwagon a few years from now? Are they ahead or behind the curve. Re-elections or not should give some indication.Report

  3. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    I appreciate the perspective, Dennis. Thanks for it.

    Certainly the whole country has great work to do. No one should think that their own state or community doesn’t.Report

  4. Avatar gregiank says:

    Nice post Dennis. Two PD’s in SC have done well with their miscreants which is good. But i also know where you find the most states who have refused Medicaid expansion. SC and , i believe, the rest of the old south has done little to nothing to insure their poorest residents.Report

  5. Avatar aaron david says:

    Excellent post Dennis, I agree with you 100%.Report

  6. Avatar Lyle says:

    The flag is part of the confederate memorial on the capitol grounds. Looking at images, perhaps the memorial and the flag pole should be surrounded by one fence instead of just a fence around the flag pole. (looking a images of the memorial). Now of course then the question becomes after the flag do you take the confederate memorial away? Interestingly there is quite a dispute over putting small confederate flags over the graves of confederate soldiers as disputes rage in various cemeteries.
    Now perhaps if you put 3 poles in with the US flag as the center and the state and confederate flags lower and of course lowered the confederate flag to half staff when the US flag was so lowered, one might avoid part of the controversy. I do note that at USNPS run confederate cemeteries no confederate flags fly.
    Another alternative would be to put in an exhibition case at the monument with the confederate flag inside.Report

    • Avatar Lyle in reply to Lyle says:

      A bit more checking shows that the confederate flag can be flown on Memorial day and Confederate Memorial day in the USNPS confederate cemeteries only.Report

  7. Avatar LWA says:

    The resentment of the flag is owned most eloquently by black people for obvious reasons and they have the strongest standing for opposing it.

    But not JUST black people!

    The Confederacy was above all else, a state founded on anti-American ideals of serfdom and landed aristocracy.

    I mentioned before how I watched the Dukes of Hazzard in the 70’s and didn’t see any harm- it seemed witless and stupid, but harmless.
    It was only later that I realized that the flag wasn’t just a harmless thing- there is an entire underground industry devoted to rehabilitating the Confederacy and Jim Crow and making their anti-American ideals acceptable.

    When I see the flag now, I don’t see an insult to black people- I see a challenge to America itself, to the idea of who we are and what we stand for.Report

    • Avatar Will H. in reply to LWA says:

      The Confederacy was above all else, a state founded on anti-American ideals of serfdom and landed aristocracy.
      (emphasis added)

      That is the part that I disagree with.

      The Confederacy was a state founded on the English doctrine of property.
      Dissolution of the Confederacy marked an evolution in the matter of property, but it is still very much alive and well.Report

  8. Avatar Dennis Sanders says:

    The thing I’ve been noticing is how we keep talking about how the Confederate flag stands against everything America stands for. That is true- but that is only half true. The problem is that we dress the rest of America up as if it is a racial utopia when it never has been. There were race riots taking place in Detroit in 1863. Three African Americans were lynched in Duluth, Minnesota in the 1920s. Racism has always been “all-American.”

    The problem with this whole argument about the flag is that it allows America to live in the ongoing fantasy that race is a Southern problem and not a nationwide issue.

    If we want to take down the flag, fine. But that won’t stop or deal with the far weighter issues surrounding race today.Report

    • Avatar LWA in reply to Dennis Sanders says:

      I agree, but compare the Confederacy in America to Naziism in Germany-
      There is a school of thought that Naziism was the natural outgrowth of German culture and far from being an outlier, it was the natural part of it.
      The trouble with this, is that it doesn’t allow the Germans to divorce themselves from it- it weaves Nazi ideology intrinsically to Goethe and Beethoven as much as Himmler and Goering.

      The Germans I know have successfully divorced their heritage and culture from it. They can be proud of their heritage, with the awful parts excised out.

      Which is inaccurate to the same degree that we can’t really excise Sally Hemmings out of Thomas Jefferson’s life or any of the sins of America from its successes.

      But its a case where a bit of ambiguity and inaccuracy is a good thing- we need to have a cultural narrative we can believe in.
      And I know, this is an argument that cries out for nuance and subtlety and is easily misused. There is in fact as much racism in every corner of America as there is in Charleston.

      Which, bringing this full circle, is why you see the Stars and Bars in every corner of America.Report

      • Avatar Will H. in reply to LWA says:

        I used to be fairly ambivalent about the Confederate flag.
        Nothing to do with me.
        Actually, I identify culturally a lot more with Mexico’s freeing of its slaves in 1812 following its War of Independence than about anything to do with the American Civil War.

        One day when I was in Florida, this temp service that I took short-term assignments at (mostly as an electrician) sent me out to a cemetary as a groundskeeper. I saw the crypt of a Confederate officer the second day out there.
        That changed my view of the Confederate flag.

        These days, I think that everyone else from every other state that has anything to say about it would be better off not to.

        Personally, I really don’t give a crap about your views of Sandia Pueblo.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Will H. says:


          Can you elaborate? I’m not sure I follow.Report

          • Avatar Will H. in reply to Kazzy says:

            Not sure which part you don’t follow.
            The Mexican War of Independence?
            The notion of heritage?
            A comparison to Sandia Pueblo to, say, Acoma Pueblo?

            Look, the American Civil War was fought exclusively over the English doctrine of property: the right of disposal, where rights, liberties, and property are all essentially aspects of the very same thing.
            A more ancient system of agrarian peonage, where peasants could be sold with the land, or apart from it, fell to the new form, corporatism, which then became the model for the industrial revolution.
            Yet the system of property and estate remained intact.
            William Jennings Bryant’s Cross of Gold speech, that pinnacle of populism, can be viewed as very much a remnant fo the former ways, iconizing the displaced farmer, now void of estate.

            So, corporatism it is.
            But what does that really mean?

            That corporatism wasn’t undertaken with saintly views of the dignity of man, that’s for sure.
            So why pretend it was?

            The development of tort law in America is very much the story of the railroads and the looming dominance of the corporate structure.
            It was already underway by the time of the Civil War.
            That’s where the use of the term “railroad” as a verb comes from: the Field Code, i.e., David Dudley Field and his ilk.

            The end result is this:
            To rob one another is far superior than the capacity to own a thing.

            That’s what it boils down to.

            Granted, they were limited in their options by what they could conceive of, but I see no great moral victory in the Civil War.

            Mind you, I don’t say that in order to exonerate the South.
            Some time around Spring break, I felt incredibly spent having read a Justice Taney decision dealing with property rights, and because I understand that, in the English system, property hinges on the right of disposal. Granted, this was shortly after a visit to the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, only weeks after having viewed the original of Lincoln’s signature on court documents from when he was in private practice (those documents are kept in the basement of the university library, btw).
            Repeatedly, I have described Justice Taney’s decision as “diabolical,” and I believe that to be the only word which is both accurate and sufficient.

            It’s just that I don’t see the alternative as much better, if any at all.

            The argument over the Confederate flag is this:
            The corporatists wish to draw attention away from the fact that this very same system of property they proclaim so reprehensible is the very God at whose altar they so devoutly kneel.

            That, and nothing more.

            I had to look this up on Google maps, but 12.1 miles from where I now sit, there was a mixed couple’s house burned to the ground– twice– in a sundown town, and a sign put up in the yard, “If you bring him back, it will happen again.”
            To me, the tears of that woman viewing the charred remains of her home mean more than any flag from yesteryear.

            Both the North and the South have their own heritage which they continue to observe.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Dennis Sanders says:

      If we want to take down the flag, fine. But that won’t stop or deal with the far weighter issues surrounding race today.

      I don’t think I understand this, actually. Taking the flag down would require a dialogue (or, well, two monologues in parallel, anyway) which would at the very least put the views on taking/not-taking down the flag on record. People would express their views, have them challenged, find new ground, stake out existing ground, whatever. Isn’t that a good thing? I take it that you think the problems of race and racism go deeper than merely the Confederate flag, and that’s undoubtedly true. But how are the “weightier” issues supposed to be addressed other than having a dialogue and all that that entails?

      This strikes me as the flip side of thinking that anything we could do is tilting at windmills. On the one hand, Nothing Can Be Done. On the other, Anything We Do Isn’t Enough.

      Rock meets hard place, yeah?Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to Dennis Sanders says:

      I don’t agree, @dennis-sanders

      I live in Maine.

      And I know people who fly the flag; and they do it because they’re racist and to them, it symbolizes the small-government, don’t-tread-on-me mentality that allows their racism to flourish.

      Outside of the south, that flag is a common symbol not of Southern Heritage, but of the racism of slavery; anything worthwhile and humane is stripped away. So if southerners hear ‘racism,’ it’s because racists have embraced it; and those racists live in every state and display the confederate flag in every state and they are doing this because of the southern response to the Civil Rights movement, when the flag re-entered our culture after a long time moldering in attics.Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to zic says:

        Yep, this.

        When I criticize the Confederate Flag, I’m not doing it to attack the South. I’m doing it to White racism all across the United States. I see plenty of Stars-and-Bars where I live–and the people who celebrate it here do so because it symbolizes the same ideals for them in California that it did for Dylann Roof in South Carolina.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Dennis Sanders says:

      “The problem with this whole argument about the flag is that it allows America to live in the ongoing fantasy that race is a Southern problem and not a nationwide issue.”


      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        @mike-dwyer @dennis-sanders

        For what it’s worth, as a born-and-bred Northerner*, I have no illusions about racism being anything other than a nationwide issue (and, really, a global issue). It may take different forms in different places but it knows no bounds. I think lazy folks may hold to this thinking, but no one I know who is seriously engaged in anti-racism work thinks this.

        * I did live south of the Mason-Dixon line for a couple of years, but I’d be hard pressed to call Montgomery County, Maryland “the South”.Report

      • Avatar nevermoor in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Disagree. Racism was in lots of places. For example, we discussed SF’s (horribly horribly) racist past in the other thread. And there’s plenty of it today.

        But we don’t defend it, we don’t pretend it didn’t happen, and we try to improve. A long way to go? Sure. A LOT of things that should never have happened (Angel Island, Internment, Transcontinental railroad, etc.)? Absolutely. But we’re going. And that’s what drives me craziest about this whole “its treasured southern heritage” argument. It’s pure denial, and it stands in the way of progress and improvement.

        Kids should be taught about these things as part of their local history classes (out here, that was fourth grade). People should acknowledge things that happened. Even when those things sucked. We shouldn’t be so busy deflecting that we spend a full century building up the kind of myths that surround the “lost cause.” We shouldn’t be trying to convince victims of that terrible history to pretend it didn’t happen or to somehow “appropriate” the symbols of that history.Report

  9. Avatar North says:

    An excellent contribution to the conversation Dennis.Report

  10. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    As far as I can tell law enforcement in SC did their best to track down and apprehend Dylann Root. They also did the right thing with regard to the case @dennis-sanders mentions, too.

    In the meantime, law enforcement officers in other states beat and kill black bodies. We have, as a society, a lot more control over what our police forces do than over what our private citizens do.

    So it can seem like it’s a distraction tactic, a sort of “look over there” to complain about South Carolina’s use of the Confederate flag, even though this case has driven, say, discussion of Kalief Browder completely out of the news. I am doubtful that changes in public policy could have done anything about the shootings at Emanuel AME church. But they could certainly have done something to prevent the death of Browder.Report

    • Avatar nevermoor in reply to Doctor Jay says:

      I don’t think anyone in their right mind isn’t proud of the way law enforcement handled these two incidents. I don’t think that means we can’t work on other problems in South Carolina until all the nation’s race relation problems are fixed.Report

  11. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Remember how — after finding and killing Bin Laden — we disposed of his body at sea in part so that his gravesite couldn’t become a memorial or other source of inspiration for his followers? How would folks have felt if we didn’t do that, if we allowed Pakistan or Afghanistan or Saudia Arabia to bury his body — or, worse yet, his American family to bury him here! — and fly the Al Qaeda flag over the site? Would we accept that Al Qaeda is about more than just killing Americans and instead is focused on establishing true Islamic states? Or would we say, no, fuck that… this guy oversaw the murder of thousands of Americans because he hates America and any symbol of him is a symbol of anti-Americanism?

    I’m really just trying to understand which symbols matter and which ones don’t. Because I feel like there are pretty conflicting rules about this.

    Note: I would not support any legislation that sought to outlaw flying the flag by private citizens. However, I sincerely hope that every level of government, from local villages to the feds, rightly choose to not fly that flag anywhere on government property.Report

  12. Avatar gingergene says:

    Can’t we do both?Report

    • Avatar Dennis Sanders in reply to gingergene says:

      We can do both and we should. My concern is that it feels that the issue of removing the flag is a) opportunistic and b) a feel good measure in lieu of focusing on the tougher issues concerning race and c) that racism is a Southern and not national problem.Report

      • Avatar gingergene in reply to Dennis Sanders says:

        If you can show me a time when we kept the problematic symbolism while actually addressing the roots of a problem, I’d be more persuaded. I think we do what we can when we can. If we can remove the flag from the capitol (and there is already a bill to do so), then why not? It’s more than was done the last time someone attacked a black church, and who says it has to be the end of the response, rather than the beginning?Report

  13. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    Well Dennis, the flag is a symbol of all the evil. And, in these magical-thinking times, killing the symbol is the same as killing the thing.

    For all that we’re surrounded by the products of technology and science, these are very superstitious times.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to DensityDuck says:

      The flag is a symbol.
      As is the act of officially flying it.
      As is the act of no longer officially flying it.

      One of the sour thoughts that occurs to me is that the victory of no longer officially flying the flag will be confused as a symbolic victory over the symbolized with an actual victory over it by way, way, way too many people.

      That said, to get hung up on that sort of thing to the exclusion of the importance of even symbolic victories over the symbolized is to mirror umpteen arguments over the War Between Brothers all over again.Report

  14. Avatar Hoosegow Flask says:

    As a white guy, I used to generally shrug off or roll my eyes whenever I’d see a confederate flag.

    These days, married to a black woman and father of a mixed race child, it feels menacing.Report

  15. Excellent post, Dennis. I’ve been mulling what you’ve written over for the last several days, rather than just react to it.

    I couldn’t agree with you more on the importance of what South Carolina has seemed to do with respect to police shootings, and in particular in the comparison with the North – heck, one of the few posts (albeit an off-the-cuff) I’ve done in the last year drew precisely that comparison for precisely the purpose of showing how differences between North and South on racism are not so cut and dry.

    Though you didn’t outright imply this, I also think there are at least some people for whom the desire to now discuss the flag is more a matter of just doubling down on their existing prejudices towards the South.

    But at the same time…..symbols are important, and in this case, they seem to be uniquely important and indeed relevant.

    The first time the flag issue was brought to my attention after the attack was a tweet from someone I understood to be a member of Charleston’s African-American community indicating that the flag’s presence so close to the shooting – with its clearly racist motive and close ties to neo-Confederacy, and at full staff, no less – served to deepen the pain from the shooting. Presumably, I was not alone in this.

    As in all mass shootings, there is also a desire amongst many to make it so that those who were killed did not die in vain. This is a natural human response, I think, and can include a desire to strike a blow against the attacker or his ideology, or a desire to prevent similar events from happening in the future, or a desire to achieve greater unity amongst a community or populace, or a desire to further the good works of the deceased, or all of these at once.

    In this case, the demands to bring the flag down – in addition to being an attempt to eliminate a source of post-attack pain – is also borne out of a desire to strike a blow against the attacker’s ideology and to achieve greater unity between Southern whites and blacks, and arguably to lessen the long term risk of racial attacks. The first of these three goals is probably more prevalent amongst those of us who are not Southerners, though it is assuredly present amongst a good number of Southerners as well – neo-Confederatism provided Roof with succor and inspiration, yet from a recent survey appears to have the passionate support of only about a quarter of present-day Southerners:

    The majority of people, both southern and northern, have historically been ambivalent about the Confederate flag. Many of those people now suddenly care, and I’d wager the reason they suddenly care is that for this attacker, neo-Confederatism wasn’t just some misguided, but generally harmless, worldview, but instead a worldview with real consequences for how its relatively small number of adherents view questions of race, even if this particular attacker was extraordinarily rare in his willingness to actually commit violence. To remove state endorsement of that ideology is a way, then, of taking a step towards undermining that ideology and undermining the attacker’s goals.

    More important locally, I suspect, is that the flag’s continued official endorsement is highly divisive within the South. Removing that endorsement removes it as a wedge within the community. Sure, there will be people who oppose its removal, but once it’s removed, it’s removed, and ceases to be an ever-present cause of division. The language of unity and the flag’s divisiveness was also the language that Governor Haley used in her speech demanding the flag be removed yesterday, as well as the language Mississippi’s Speaker used in demanding the battle flag be removed from the Mississippi state flag.

    It seems worth mentioning that the first local Republican politician to demand the flag be taken down after the attack said that his motivation is that “my friend (Rev. Pinckney) is dead.” I’ve seen similar language from several others who were amongst the first locally to demand the flag be removed. My presumption is that people who feel qualified to refer to the deceased as “friends” have a better idea of how to honor the deceased than most of us.

    In that regard, for me, at least, demanding the removal of the flag is as much about supporting the community most aggrieved and affected by this attack as it is about seeking to remove official endorsement of an abhorrent ideology.Report