The State Flag

So, something good happened today in my town, though I think for the wrong reasons.  At eleven o’clock this morning the state flag was taken down at the university.  Though, the term state flag should probably spark something in you by this point, but if you are unsure, it is the state flag of Mississippi.  I am in Mississippi, and as such, our state flag is the last one in all of the fifty states to have any symbolic connection to the Confederate battle flag.

Three American flags at The University of Southern Mississippi; Student Printz

I won’t go into a big hoopla here in this post, as I have done that in two previous posts; here & here, however I will briefly state my opinions of things, but for further information, please refer to those two post links.

I do not like hiding history away.  I am a firm believer of “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.”  An original flag (or all of them) from the era of the Confederate States of America should be on display at Civil War Museums, but it should not be sold in museum gift stores.

What is around today that people refer to as the Confederate flag and stake all of their pride and heritage on is another matter altogether.  It was cobbled together in the latter part of the 19th century for the KKK.  It really has nothing to do with any part of history pertaining to that war and that divide, since even Confederate veterans and southerners in general didn’t use it to honour fall soldiers or living veterans.  Though people call it the Rebel flag, the Confederate flag, it is really none of that, and is the Dixie flag.

So, Mississippi’s state flag; the flag of my home state, is this weird offshoot of the Dixie flag.  There are Mississippians who are not only claiming ‘southern heritage’ with the Dixie flag but with the state flag as well.  To be fair, not all of them are racists who are trying to exude their white power.  In the simplest of terms it can be chalked up to confusion and neglecting portions of historical importance.

It’s difficult to explain southern to non-southerners.  The majority of white people living in the south at that time were not wealthy slave owners; they were poor.  They worked menial jobs in cities or their own small, rural farm land.  While some were established Americans, others were newly immigrated to the states.  They neither had the money to own slaves, nor the time to care about slavery in general.  It’s not to say that there weren’t people helping slaves to escape or who did not agree that people should be kept enslaved, but most people were just too busy worrying about how to keep them and their families afloat.

While it is true that the south succeeded and the war was fought over slavery; that’s like a prosecuting attorney asking the witness a yes or no only question, when there is so much more to be said besides a simple yes or no.  However, to say the south denotes all of the free people in the south, which would be incorrect.  It is incorrect because there was no vote, no unanimous verdict from the whole of a state deciding what should be done.  The decisions were made solely by the minority of wealthy and powerful land owners; the men that owned slaves.

That is a small few speaking on behalf of everyone else… without their say so.  Let’s do some weird example.  Ok, let’s choose yachts.  Yachts are expensive.  Only certain people can afford them.  So let’s say that there are wealthy men in several states who own two yachts, but they want to own more.  And let’s say that the process of manufacturing these yachts endangers peoples livelihoods, or the environment, or children in other countries, or all three.  The US government has started phasing out the import and purchase of yachts in most of the country.  These men don’t care, they want yachts.  Since they are not willing to budge, the US government outright bans yachts in these certain states, but does not do a complete ban in other ones.  To a spoiled wealthy man this does not seem fair, and really on even a tiny level, it is not.

So the wealthy men decide they won’t go along with that, they write formal letters of succession to the government all because they have been told that they can’t own yachts.  There is to be a war.  As a person who can not even afford a yacht, probably have never been on one, would you be willing to voluntarily lay down your life so that a small percentage of your state’s population can own them?  No, you wouldn’t.  What might you be willing to lay down your life for?  Possibly being told that your personal freedom was in jeopardy.  How else might you see this scenario playing out?  That you are forced into fighting?  That you are forced to support the war effort by keeping your job because you don’t want to starve?  Yes.

So getting back to the south at that time, you have a vast majority of poor, white people who would never be willing to sacrifice their lives for something that doesn’t affect them in the slightest.  They fought because they were lied to or forced to.  Not because they agreed with the true and real intention of the succession or the war.  That lie that helped fill the vast infantry was believed by most in the beginning.  When people were faced with realizations of what they were really fighting for, most chose to still believe the lie.  I probably would have too.  It’s easy for humans to choose their realities in times like that, to be in denial in order to keep them moving forward.

Tack all of that on to the treatment of the dead soldiers, whom a lot in the north regarded as, not people, but as traitors and worse than something they might have stepped in.  A disregard of someone’s dead father, brother, husband, or son.  Then add-on that a lot of Union soldiers and Northerners, in general, made situations worse after the war when they got here.  For the most part, very strict and hardly edible rations were given to everyone; black, white, free, previous enslaved, poor or wealthy.  And southerners were told that they got what they deserved and that this was all their fault.

Lies, swindles, lives lost, starvation, exclusion, and blame; all because of a very small group of spoiled, wealthy men.  They were the one’s to blame, they created this rift, all the death, all the starvation; the entire mess, but it was the poor who it all landed on.  Southerners felt alienated, defeated, hurt, ridiculed and lost.  They were lost in their own lands among people who despised them, grieving for the time before the upheaval, grieving for so many lost.  So, they banded together.  Even the previously enslaved and the poor, white people ended up banding together; not all of them, but it did happen.  They were isolated and starving and homeless together.

The single university cop tasked with the challenge or lowering the flag; Student Printz

This is really how this southern heritage was born.  We went through this.  We survived this.  We didn’t start this, but we were blamed and punished for it.  We still are.  We banded together as our own people.  We survived this.  But somewhere along the way that wound that was never healed ended up morphing into something else entirely.  Poor southerners were praising the men who started this mess, honouring not the poor veterans and men who died, but the wealthy generals.  They erected monuments to them, named counties and towns after them, and took a flag that those men did not care for and turned into a respected symbol.

And now we have an entirely different mess to contend with.  There has been 150 years in which things can be forgotten, misconstrued, retold, and generally mucked up.  Things have gotten lost in translation, so to speak, and now we can’t see the forest for the trees.  There’s so many ways this could have happened, that I’m sure it’s a mix of them all.  The fact that these poor people did not voluntarily succeed or fight a war in the name of slavery has ended up becoming a proclamation of, “the war wasn’t about slavery.”  These men who did have to fight for something they didn’t believe in, didn’t want to remember that they fought a war and encountered all of that horror for anything other than their own jeopardized freedom, so somehow over time, they swallowed the lie whole heartedly, whether they believed it or not, because it made better sense and helped them cope with how it all went down and why.  The treatment from the North only solidified that lie.  “They really do hate us.  They really don’t care about us.  We must really have been threatened, well damn it those generals were heroes against the evil Yankees.”  And then came along a flag representing the past, that whether its true intentions of white supremacy or not, it was a symbol of our united mistrust against Yankees.

And here you have “southern pride” wrapped around a fake Confederate flag and why people have ended up remembering the war differently.  And there is too much time surrounding this to simply tell a southerner that they are wrong, or stupid.  They may never see things differently, or it may take some time.  There is also too much time spent saying the wrong things and not enough of the right.  It’s like an argument you might have with a friend where both of you only say the bare minimum, but if you had really had a conversation, neither of you would be this mad or for this long.

We’re all shouting, “You’re so stupid!  What is wrong with you?” that it puts up even greater defensive walls.  With retorts of hating Yankee busy bodies.  This does nothing to solve conflict.  “The south fought for slavery.” is met with “no it wasn’t.”  That’s all we get.  While it is correct, it is also incorrect and there is not resolution with these simple school yard sentences.

And in a weird twist, while southerners have glorified their wealthy generals as protecting them from the evil Yankees, they also can not wrap their minds around white privilege, because somewhere deep inside, they still remember that those wealthy generals with all of their privilege is what started this mess in the first place.  They can’t see that privilege doesn’t have to mean having all of the money or owning all of the things.  Also that, to them, white privilege is akin to white power and most southerners think that is ridiculous.  And it’s hard to understand something so close to your vision when the people who could enlighten you are simply repeating the phrase “white privilege” over and over again, pointing fingers, not explaining and then saying the person is stupid.

So, this is why there is this persistence to keep the confederate flag up and why people aren’t understanding that it shouldn’t be a symbol of pride.  They’re not stupid.  It’s just there’s this spun myth around it and the Yankees still seem like a threat, to be honest.

Of course there is the KKK waving around all sorts of flags today as they were with their inception; any of the true Confederate flags, the new Dixie flag, as well as the American flag.  Those people are crazy.  I won’t deny that there are southern people who adore them and their views, but then as sad as it is there are people in Europe, as well as other parts of the US who embrace them.  However, the majority of southerners think they are ridiculous and also scary and do not condone or support them.  And there are people who are in both camps at the same time, though they are really two different things.

Look! I made a Venn Diagram.

Which leads me to the Mississippi State Flag.  It is a state flag formed as the off-shoot of the Dixie Flag.  There are very small numbers of KKK or KKK/Southern Pride people rallying for it.  Most are Southern Pride feeling threatened by Yankees yet again.  But this is a large number of southern people who, whether they understand how the war went down, or if they feel sorry for the little people in that war or not, are rallying against the flag.  They want it taken down and they want a newer and better state flag.  I am one of these people.

However, our governor sides with one of the other groups.  He does not agree that Dixie flags or the state flag should come down.  He thinks they should have to fly everywhere because that’s what the people of the state want.  Except that in our state constitution we do not have to fly any flags at all.  He does not want it changed and does not want proposals for this.  And when he refers to what the people want, he’s talking about when Mississippi voted on our state flag.  A vote that happened fourteen years ago.

I might could agree with that argument if we had voted on it with in the past year or two.  Might.  But a lot has happened in the past fourteen years.  Hell, a lot has happened just in the past year even, which is why I say might.  It’s just not a valid argument.  There has been so much dramatic political and social change.  Old voters have died.  New voters are registered.  If people are shouting to change the state flag and there are protests over this and government and public buildings are taking it down, then I think it’s time to listen.

So, the state flag has not been flown at government buildings for about a year or two.  Citizens never even noticed until other states started taking their Dixie flags down after the church shooting in Charleston.  Against supporters simply shrugged and went on with their day as usual.  For supporters were livid that the mayor took down the flags, assuming he had just ordered that.

Then universities in Mississippi started taking the state flags down within this past week.  Lots of people on my Facebook news feed started sharing the news when The University of Southern Mississippi ordered the flag down.  However, I read the article and then rolled my eyes.  The university president removed the flag one hour before a planned protest.  It reminded me of the Alabama governor when he removed the Dixie flag practically wetting himself exclaiming that he did this and he’s the first, so yay him!  Our university president really only removed it because he didn’t want to deal with a protest.

I get it.  I’ve seen the protests in other parts of the country and in this state.  But, then I saw the photos and laughed to myself.  Of course this is what a protest would look like in Hattiesburg, why didn’t I realize that initially.  I think people are just too lazy to protest.  People have strong opinions, but don’t want to deal with it in that way.  The excuse is generally the weather.  “It’s too hot out today.”  “It’s raining.”  “It’s too cold.”  “It’s kind of windy.”  I’m sure that yesterday the subconscious excuse was that “Oh the weather’s too nice out for something like that.”

It actually looked like a rather lovely protest.  Here, let me show you.

Anti-flag protesters; WDAM

Here we have our anti-flag protesters.  All SIX of them.

Pro-flag protester; WDAM

And here we have our LONE pro-flag protester with a sign.  He genuinely believes in Southern Heritage though he just happens to be on the wrong road with it.

Pro-flag protesters; WDAM

Here we have the only two supporters of lone sign guy.  Did he need the Dixie flag representing?  Were they there with him or there for their own reasons?  Is their view of Southern Heritage similar to his… or more scary?  Not sure, the article didn’t discuss these two people.

Anti-flag protesters; WDAM

And here we have eight black kids who showed up to protest the pro-flag protesters.  No one was angry.  They just wondered why.  They looked sad.  From the other photo’s I’m supposing that one of them simply asked lone sign guy and he politely responded why and no one was satisfied, but no one was mad.  No one yelled.  No one had a heated argument.  There were no police.  Just some people taking pictures for the news.

It was all a very low-key and calm protest with very few people showing up for any corner.  It was, dare I say hospitable, as far as a protest can go.  But it seems like a perfectly natural scenario for how something like this would happen around here.  I’m not surprised in the least.  I am a bit surprised they didn’t all go out for tea afterwards.  I know, that’s mean.  While being low-key, it is a serious issue, so it was as serious as could be.

However, the protest didn’t last long, and I’m sure it was because the weather was simply too nice to this and no one cared that much to mar the day by getting into any huff about anything.  It still all seems very quaint and adorable and I couldn’t be more proud of my hometowns manners whilst having a protest.

While I agree with not having Dixie flags everything, and thankfully Mississippi doesn’t since it’s basically their state flag; and I agree with not having this state flag any longer, I am a little upset at the group that’s lobbying to have it removed.  They want it removed.  They want a new one.  Yet, they’re not bothering to propose any idea’s on what the new one should look like.  One guy came up with four designs that were basically all the same, but no one really gave any sort of response, and now there’s no idea’s.

Come on people!  Without idea’s and getting the people to choose one, you have nothing to step forward with in a proposal to the state government.  They don’t care and don’t want to do the work, we’ll have to do it for them and present them with a finished proposal if we’re to be taken seriously!

But, whether the university presidents intentions were genuine or not, the flag is removed, which I think is fantastic.  I will say it was a little stupid to also take down the USM flag, and just triple Americanize the university.  Just makes me think of all the times people mock our country with “‘Merica!”  But, I digress.  And while I’m glad it’s coming down all of the state, even if it’s a little slow going, I also do not want to be without a state flag.  And damn it, I want something pretty and also I don’t want it to be red, white, & blue.  We’ve got enough of that going on, right?

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