Rebel Flag the Ultimate Dog Whistle

The Confederate rebel flag has been the source of controversy with a regularity approaching that of a Madonna comeback album.

Since its reintroduction on the grounds of the South Carolina Capitol in 1961 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, the Confederate rebel flag has been the source of controversy with a regularity approaching that of a Madonna comeback album. Sadly, it has been thrust into the news once more because some kid who loved it went crazy and committed an atrocity. A racially charged atrocity. Yes. Again.

Proponents of the flag fiercely insist it is not a racist symbol of slavery but a banner illustriously heralding their culture, heritage and independence. The same way a skull and crossbones is a symbol of rebirth. And the swastika is just an emblem of Caucasian pride.

Anything can represent anything if one is familiar with the code. A red bandana sticking out of a back pocket invokes a certain meaning, yet when tied around the neck of a yellow lab is decidedly less prurient. It’s all context. Yankee Doodle stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni. That doesn’t mean restaurants will start serving feathers and cheese as a side dish to barbecue dinners anytime soon.

But it is disingenuous to the extreme to suggest that when the rebel flag is worn or brandished in the first state to secede from the Union, that it isn’t meant as a wink-wink, nudge-nudge, knowing and shared racist commentary with no need to be verbalized. The ultimate dog whistle in the key of Dixie.

Besides, it’s not really THE Confederate flag; just a Confederate flag. It’s not even one of three official flags used during the war. The original Stars and Bars looked too much like the Star Spangled Banner and confused troops on both sides. The 2nd flag had much too much white and was often mistaken for a flag of surrender. And the third was like the 2nd, only with a big red stripe at the end. And then the war was over. Except it wasn’t. And in some places still isn’t.

The recent resurgence of General Lee’s Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia gives proof that though the War of Northern Aggression has been over for 150 years, the flame of bigotry remains alive. Why? Because old times there are not forgotten. The South never quit fighting; they just took an intermission. The pause that refreshes.

And their protestations of innocence might be a tad more believable if the states that insist on flying the rebel flag over state-sponsored Confederate monuments weren’t the same ones that defied integration way past the bitter end, using everything at their disposal including police batons, dogs and fire hoses.

“It’s about states’ rights.” Yeah, especially those rights that include owning your labor force. They may call it macaroni, but it’s really white supremacy. In Dixieland, I’ll take my stand and live and die in Dixie. And Republicans wonder why they can’t attract black voters.

Come on, you guys. It’s the sixth year of the 2nd decade of the 21st century. Pull your Confederate rebel flags off of government lands. Let folks fly or paint or tattoo them on their own property, which as you may or may not have noticed, no longer includes people. As George W. Bush famously said, “the past is over.” Look away. Look away. Look away Dixieland.

Will Durst
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