Story by Zoë Collenburg
Coming from the South, to the Midwest, a lot of people assume I’m used to seeing the Rebel Flag everywhere. I get asked quite a bit, but the thing is I don’t. I live in an affluent suburb, it’s a notion more than a symbol here. I much more likely to see a bumper stickers begging for Reagan back or claiming they stand with Si Robertson.
That being said, when my mother was in high school, their mascot was up for debate- they had been the Rebels for years. And looking through her yearbooks, the Rebel Flag was everywhere- it was a symbol of school spirit, state spirit, and Southern pride. Never did she recall race crimes or the flag being used to harm anyone. It simply stood as a symbol of pride.
Every Southerner I know, knows somebody who has a Rebel Flag, and is hateful to Northerns and not so much Black Americans. And yes, we also know somebody who has one and is hateful to both. But that’s the thing, people will be racists, with or without the flag.
In schools, we were taught that the Civil War is synonymous with the War of Northern Aggression. We are taught that it was a war fought because our state rights were being taken away unconstitutionally. We were taught that the industry that made this nation rich and powerful was the reason we were being constricted, and that we fought for our rights. Notice how I’ve called it the Rebel Flag so far- in the South that’s mainly what it is, a sign of Southern pride, grit, and that special something only the South holds. It’s a sign of us standing up for ourselves and our community, just like every cowboy. Yes, it is only one side to the story, but I bet so was your education.
You learned about the Confederacy of hicks and plantation owners who refused to give up a practice of degrading people. You learned about Southerners not doing as they were told because they liked money and being slave owners. Did you learn about the crimes being committed by Northerns on Black Americans? Do you really think that if roles were reserved it would have gone differently? The past sucks, but we have to deal with all of it.
Now, neither of these sides are fully correct. Attitudes towards Black Americans were poor all over the U.S., but depending on your area, affluency, personal history, it looks different.
When my mother’s school took away their mascot and told them they were no longer the Rebels, Black students protested, because they saw it as their own, as Southerners. Now, I’m not trying to say the Confederate Flag is great, it does symbolize a time when the United States of America was torn apart, of a time when fellow Americans were being enslaved simply because of the color of their skin. But I want you to realize that Southerners who protested taking down this flag are (most likely) not as racist as you think.
I just hope you are aware that a lot of those fighting for the flag and getting upset (not the crazy people) are getting upset because again, the South is being thrown under the bus. And it feels like it happens a lot. They are fighting for a flag that represents Southern pride and grit. You are fighting for a flag that represents Slavery.
Is this a flag of honor? No, we absolutely need to let that go. But that is a process the South needs to work out. There are much more solid forms of racism, and as a symbol of both hold power and lacks power. It is not a flag of honor, but many desperately want it to and cling to it. But I will clarify, any non-Southerner who flies that flag literally or figuratively is committing an injustice. It is not yours to try and claim- this flag is the South’s burden to address.
The Confederate Flag represents slavery and oppression. The Rebel Flag represents Americans fighting tyranny. Most of the men who died fighting for the Confederacy were not slave owners, they were Americans fighting a government (righteously) overstepping their boundaries and breaking laws. It will be a process to fully heal, but to do that, we need to learn, teach, and deal with the truth.
Should we have this flag raised at a Capitol building? No.
Should we have statues of Confederate leaders at state universities? No.
Should we cancel reruns of a show that featured this flag, but whose protagonist treated Black Americans with respect and Southern Hospitality? No.
Should we maybe follow General Robert E. Lee’s words and “fold it up and put it away?” Prolly a good idea.
Should we change the way we are educating the entire nation about the Civil War? Absolutely.
About the Writer…
Zoë Collenburg is a Junior out of state student (hook ’em horns!) double majoring in English and Communication with a Theatre Emphasis. She is the Vice Chair of Student Senate, a Student Ambassador, and an Orientation Leader. She loves coffee, being on stage, and long walks on the beach.