The Confederate Flag is “The Treason Flag”. The Confederate flag is also the American Swastika, the banner of a society based upon the charnel houses and slave labor camps described in Edward Baptiste’s brilliant and devastating book The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism.
In the aftermath of The Charleston Massacre, there have been demands by many Americans that the Confederate flag be removed from public spaces. Corporations such as Amazon and Walmart have decided to no longer sell the flag. This desire to discard such a problematic and onerous symbol has even extended to the digital and virtual worlds: Apple has removed video games and apps that contain images of the Confederate Flag.
These moves are an example of what Professor Nancy Leong describes as “racial capitalism”, a practice that is based on the management of racial stagecraft and optics, neoliberal multiculturalism, and maximizing the superficial in the interest of profits. Racial capitalism has little to no substantive social justice component, and in many ways can work against meaningful social, economic, and political progress for people of color.
It would seem that for companies such as Apple, it is far easier to “ban” the Confederate Flag than it is to diversify one’s senior management and corporate leadership.
The following claims are not exclusive of one another.
First, private companies are free to decide what goods and services that they will provide within the boundaries of the law.
Second, the Confederate Flag should be removed from public spaces. It is a symbol of hatred, violence, rape, murder, exploitation, and evokes a type of Herrenvolk whites only democracy that formerly enslaved black Americans for centuries, before transitioning into the American Apartheid of Jim and Jane Crow for decades and leaving many tens of thousands of black folks murdered by white racial terrorism.
The Confederate flag also represents a type of economic plunder where land, income, wealth, labor and property were systematically stolen from Black America and used to subsidize white society.
Moreover, one of the most important aspects of the recent discussions about the appropriateness of the Confederate flag’s presence over the
capital (and elsewhere), is that the unstated and unqualified assumptions about
who constitutes “the public” and the “we” have been exposed as racially marked,
exclusive and not inclusive. When not critically interrogated, words and
phrases such as “we”, “I”, “the public”, and “most people” reproduce white
privilege and the unearned advantages that come with being “white” in the United States.
In a society where the color line demarcated what groups, individuals, and
types of bodies were deemed to be fit for citizenship, the vote, or could be
full members of the polity, those types of interventions are crucial.
Therefore, when defenders of the Confederate Flag say that it honors “our culture” and “our heritage”, they are most certainly not including the millions of black Americans that were terrorized, raped, pillaged, and denied their basic humanity by
America’s slave regime and
[Of course, there are sycophantic, self-hating black conservatives who can be purchased by the pound or bushel that would suggest otherwise. They are professional contrarians who find material and psychological lucre by undermining the Black Freedom Struggle and engaging in political blackface, for their guiding principle is to serve as human chaff, a defense shield, and professional “best black friends” for Right-wing and GOP racists. Their opinion holds no weight except for those who would seek to do Black
If the Confederate flag is allowed to fly over public spaces then it is mocking and inflicting psychic pain and insult on a good portion of The People because it is a symbol of white racial terrorism, and a reminder that despite the ostensible rule of law and civil rights, the United States is still the “white man’s country”, and black Americans are forever deemed to be second class citizens.
The symbolism of the Confederate Flag is important. But, black Americans—and other people of conscience who find the American Swastika a toxic and noxious thing—are not fragile. They are not childlike and hysterical, nor do they melt like the witch in The Wizard of Oz when exposed to water. Life on the other side of the color line has created a determined people:
crucible of race burns off the weak and only leaves the strong alive.
Black America’s concerns about the Confederate flag are not about a piece of fabric, a particular arrangement of colors, and how together they symbolize white supremacy (for those who deny that fact one can look to Germany where the Swastika is banned and in its stead white racial fascists now make use of the Confederate flag). No, the complaint and objection is primarily against the social, political, and cultural institutions of white supremacy, inequality, and white privilege that brought the flag into being, and which continue to negatively over-determine the life chances of Black Americans and other people of color in the present.
An obsession with removing the Confederate Flag from public spaces, not selling it in stores, or erasing it from digital spaces, is a distraction from a truly transformative politics of racial justice.
For example, just as with racial capitalism in its worst moments, the retreat from the Confederate flag by Republicans obscures more than it reveals.
Republican presidential candidates and other Right-wing elites are willing to sacrifice the Confederate flag because they do not want to talk about guns and Right-wing domestic terrorism in the aftermath of The Charleston Massacre.
Removing the Confederate Flag does not restore the voting and civil rights protections—won in blood by the Civil Rights Movement—that were recently destroyed by the Republican Party, the Right-wing media, and the Supreme Court.
The Confederate flag is a symbol of white supremacy and a racist, sexist, landed aristocracy that presided over the slave era south. As economist Raj Jetty has shown, the destitution and poverty of many areas of the American South in the present are directly connected to the systems of chattel slavery from more than a century ago. A debate over the Confederate Flag does nothing to deal with the racial and class inequity upon which it is based.
The Confederate Flag is also a symbol of a racist criminal justice that practiced debt peonage and virtual slavery in the decades after Reconstruction and into American Apartheid, where poor black men were put on chain gangs, forced into veritable gulags and debtor’s prisons, and their labor stolen by corporations and a local capitalist elite class. The moral hazard wherein police, local municipalities, as well as other public and private interests are enriched by arresting, ticketing, issuing summonses to, and otherwise harassing black people (as was seen in Ferguson, Baltimore, and other parts of the United States), is embodied by the Confederate flag. A campaign for its removal that does not address such a reality is incomplete.
Succumbing to a Right-wing ploy that focuses on removing the Confederate flag from public and private spaces, but does not address systemic institutional white supremacy and violence against black Americans and other people of color, is creating a distorted view of reality and a twisted politics where history is unmoored from the present—what is an alternate reality where outcomes are disconnected from their causes. This is Orwellian and dangerous as it makes for an ill-informed public, and also prevents a substantive understanding of power and power in post civil rights era
The Confederate Flag or the American Swastika or the Treason Flag did not kill 9 defenseless black people in The Charleston Massacre. The beliefs and social order embodied by the Confederate flag committed wanton and cruel violence against black bodies—as it has for centuries. To fall for the Right-wing con job and political parlor trick that is obsessing over the presence of the Confederate flag in public spaces, video games, the marketplace, or elsewhere is a distraction from the systematic and institutional white supremacy that the American news media, the country’s political leaders, and the public should really be focusing on.