The Confederate Flag: Pride or Prejudice?

Rebel FlagI’m launching into this editorial with no small measure of hesitation – but here we go.  Two recent events got me thinking about the message inherent in the Confederate flag.  The first event was an American Legion custom motorcycle show.  At the show, I was struck by an African-American Vietnam veteran who stood studying a chopper that was heavily adorned with images of the flag of the Confederacy.

The other event was a motorcycle poker run that was staged to benefit a local public pool that has fallen victim to the economy.  I truly believe everyone there was altruistic in their support of a great cause.  However, several jacket patches and bandanas and a rather large sissy-bar-mounted flag at the fund-raiser again got me thinking:  Is the Confederate flag a symbol of Southern pride or a symbol of racial oppression?

As an English teacher and a writer, I am a fan of symbolism.  I love a well-crafted literary symbol.  In fact, I have been accused by my students of reading too much into the second layer of meaning that symbols afford.  Regardless, I am acutely aware of the power of a symbol.

I have lived all of my years in the Southwest – not the Deep South.  Still, in my decidedly rural neck of the woods, choppers, trucks and clothing often sport the Confederate flag.

The Confederate flag also seems to be an ingrained component of much of the chopper and custom bike culture.  Stylized Confederate flags are airbrushed onto body-work and helmets, and the rebel X is laser-cut into billet aluminum.  There are a number of custom bike builders who have the Confederate theme at their core – even using variations of the term as their company name.

Regional pride is a part of what makes America great.  An intense love of New England, chest swelling pride of the Lone Star State, or an abiding love of the Pacific Coast are all good things.  This is also true of deep Southern pride.  I guess the question is – when a symbol of that pride is also a symbol of repression to another part of our society, is it still acceptable?

I said that I penned this editorial with trepidation.  The last thing that I want is to write a piece that sparks mindless racism or equally mindless criticism of the people of any region.  That being said, I’d like to hear from our readers as to whether symbols like the flag of the Confederacy are appropriate in this day and age.  What are your thoughts?

(Photo Credit: Life Magazine)

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