BY: Clay Travis
Welcome to the complexities of American history.
The Civil War is the most important era in our history because all of the conflicts that we faced from 1861 to 1865 still define and challenge our nation today. Those questions continue to ring forward in our modern era: how do we divide power between the state and federal government, what’s the scope of our taxing ability — our first national tax was used to pay for the Civil War — how expansive are our war powers, who should vote and how do we protect that right, how do we handle immigration — many of the northern soldiers stepped right off the boat from Germany or Ireland or Italy to take up arms — what does equality really mean, how do we reconcile great variance between rich and poor? All of those issues were at play in 1861, and they’re still at play now.
Boiling down all of these issues to a symbol is simplistic, stupid, and trivial, which, I suppose, is appropriate given that these are the three adjectives that frequently come to my mind when I think about social media today.
So after all that, here’s my radical view on the Confederate flag — context is king. You remember context, right? It’s a word that serves to set the parameters of why, how and where something is used and what that usage means. It’s a way that intelligent and reasoned people used to think because it avoids artificial either/or constructs. If the Confederate flag appears at a KKK rally, okay, I have a pretty good sense for how it’s being used. But if it appears on a Confederate cemetery or in a Sons of Confederate Veterans meeting, it’s probably something different. My idea is incredibly radical so hold your breath: a symbol can mean more than one thing. The Confederate flag is racist when racists use it, and when racists don’t use it, it’s not racist.
But that’s not good enough once the wheels of the social media mob start turning, there’s only one proposition — THE CONFEDERATE FLAG IS EVIL AND RACIST AND MUST BE BANNED AND REMOVED FOREVER.
And let’s not stop there. Let’s not sell objects featuring the flag anywhere and let’s take down any statues of former Confederate officers and let’s change the names of parks and before long we’re going to be dynamiting the statues of soldiers in town squares all over the South. Are my books about the Civil War really safe if they have the Confederate flag on the dust jacket? Should I burn them now just to be safe? How about my painting of Pickett’s Charge hanging on the wall in my office? There’s a Confederate flag there too. I’m a total racist, right? That’s what the Confederate flag means.
Which leads to the scariest proposition of all that has now gone viral and been endorsed with little opposition anywhere — if something in history upsets me it shouldn’t exist.