With the shooting of nine people at the oldest AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, new controversies have been sparked over flying the Confederate Flag at the South Carolina State House, or any other public place (A late report in today’s Austin American Statesman said two people at the South Carolina capital, climbed the flag pole, and took down the Confederate Flag!).
I’ve been a student of General Semantics (GS) for forty years; during this time period, specifically while the Viet Nam War was becoming another disaster for the U.S. government, I saw American flogs being burned by anti-war protesters. I’ll have to admit it did hurt a little bit, so the enlightening part was learning the flag was a symbol of the nation or state, in this case a seceding one.
With fairness, it ought to be realized that the Confederate Flag, when it was first used by the Confederacy, was a way to concentrate on states’ rights, and this, as far as the Confederacy officials were concerned, was enough because it also stood for the sucession from the Union.
Flags and banners seem to mean so much to so many people, in all regions of the country. What GS teaches us that the flag, per se, was not the problem, but it was the meanings in people’s minds that was most significant. The symbology of the flag had left its mental configuration image on people’s minds.
In Buddhism, this is known as attachment. Our minds so easily attach to the easy and comfortable way. Attachments to any person, place or thing, are some of the most difficult of human conditionings. Attachment is all about ego—when we feel detached, we feel like we’re floating in a sea of uncertainty, fear, and unawareness. Thus,, we crave attachment or addictions.
In short, one GS principle states: “Words don’t mean—people mean,” so it’s the human mind that gives sanctity to any symbol, not words, not objects, not explanations—the people of the southern states, for example, give their meaning to the flag, even here there is a huge time lapse between its establishment and heart felt structures of reality.
What about people who say, “It’s a symbol of our historic & meaningful times we had as southern states, when slavery was integrally embedded in our culture here?”
This is a good point to stand, for those who favor having the flag be a reminiscence; however, thousands of African slaves who’ve have had a diametrically-opposed view of slavery and how their ancestors, slaves were brought to our shores amidst shame, torture & & greed. They were oppressed because they were African, of darker hue than the whites who were the dominant group at this time.
None of the rich, white landowners wanted to risk his economic base by calling the Confederate Flag racist, and joining the abolitionist battle cry. How many whites called for abolition of slavery, spoke their truth about slavery, and actually engaged in direct actions against slavery?
My point in all of this commentary, is that the acts of previous generations still have power after all this time. They effect the history of both European Americans & African Americans; later indigenous peoples and those of Spanish background also were victims of the slave trade.
I have to say this is an example of people trying to overlay the meaning of a flag, without taking any responsibility for their commiseration in the Slave Trade, with a dysfunctional spin-off of thinking that it isn’t linked to the past, has nothing to do with the past, and totally without any context except what people decide to give it.
Modern Racism, as it’s sometimes called now, is much more subtle, insidious & health-robbing than overt, blatant racism. In this case, you have no doubt of the motives, whereas searching for motives, many whites are blinded by their own defensiveness.
Some think that our racism has turned a corner because we elected a black President. This isn’t supported by the egregious, racist incidents, especially around the shootings of teens of color by police in very questionable ways that we’ve already witnessed in 2015.
Flags are symbols, not the existing reality of today’s racist climate. A word itself becomes a symbol having its own meanings for many people. The N—– word might be an example of this, and this, too, has spawned a public debate on who, and how it may be used. Does it have any redeeming value?
Symbols are representations of ideologies, beliefs, customs, and inferences, and as such they’re always in flux. However, the Confederate Flag appears to have a universal and controversial appeal. We don’t want to admit we’re wrong so we defend ourselves from engaging with truth.
©Christopher Bear-Beam June 28, 2015