Interpreting the Confederate flag as a Brit - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Interpreting the Confederate flag as a Brit

On my journeys, so far, I have not crossed paths much with the Confederate flag.

My young, ignorant British viewings of the flag came from, yes, you guessed it: The Dukes of Hazzard and those naughty champs Bo and Luke riding in the General Lee, which hosted the flag on the roof …

Anyway, then as I grew up and through the very little that I learned about the American Civil War at school (we were preoccupied with the Wars of the Roses and that conquering in 1066); along with the movies that I watched (actually, predominantly ‘North and South’ and ‘Gone with the Wind’), I acquainted the Confederate flag with the South, racism and, yes, a symbol of hate.

Having spotted the flag several times during the trip to the Eastern Shore, I commented upon its presence and was maybe a little disturbed by it flying so high, and in a Northern State …


Bo, Luke and Daisy Duke, as played by  John Schneider (R) , Tom Wopat (L) and Catherine Bach. You can't see much of the flag here, ’cause Daisy’s got her arse on the roof, but you get the idea. (Photo by Warner Brothers Television and CBS)

Bo, Luke and Daisy Duke, as played by John Schneider (R) , Tom Wopat (L) and Catherine Bach.
You can’t see much of the flag here, ’cause Daisy’s got her arse on the roof, but you get the idea.
(Photo by Warner Brothers Television and CBS)

An interesting Facebook conversation and debate about the flag ensued when I posted the picture, which has thus prompted me to try and interpret today’s Confederate flag …

FB friend 1: “V disturbing. I’m currently in South Carolina, and you see the confederate flag everywhere down here. I even saw a bumper sticker that mentioned ‘not being ashamed of this flag’.”

Me: “Surprised to see it in Maryland …”

FB friend 1: “Yes, however, ‘our Maryland’ is very different from most of the state. Living in the DC metro, we are surrounded by a highly educated population, whom are mostly transplants from other areas. The Eastern Shore for example, might as well be Arkansas …”

FB friend 2: “To some (not all) people in the South it doesn’t represent anything evil or racist, only a recognition of the confederacy and that people died in an ugly and bloody civil war.”

FB friend 3: “I’m in South Carolina and I haven’t seen too many confederate flags. Guess it depends where in the state you are.”

FB friend 1: “Come to Charleston … they’re everywhere.”

FB friend 4: “I lived in Hagerstown, MD and also close to Gettysburg, PA. I used to see it all the time and definitely not in a historic battlefield context.”

Jason Pressberg, a columnist for Pendulum Online at Elon University in North Carolina (NC), writes an interesting paper about the flag and how it is interpreted:

“The Confederate flag is still a symbol of southern pride. Visiting Wal-Mart, you’ll find it on bumper stickers, hats and t-shirts of the local Elon and Burlington (NC) customers that shop there. Many Elon students also have Confederate flag bumper stickers and paraphernalia.

“Ask anyone who has this symbol, and they’ll most likely tell you it has something to do with ‘southern pride.’ But if you’re a Northerner like me, you might become uneasy by this.

“No matter where you grew up, you will very likely receive an extremely biased education, especially regarding the Civil War. The New York public school district that I was taught in left me with the impression that it was a battle between the North, the good guys, and the South, the bad guys. The Northerners were abolitionists, fighting from the good of their hearts to end slavery. The Southerners were the cruel masters of the slaves, fighting to keep their wicked slavery ideals.

“I also came to college thinking the Confederate flag was and is an evil symbol of hate. (Obviously, I was in for a rude awakening when I came to Elon.) But to the Southerners I’ve met that identify with it, they think of the flag as a symbol of the joys and values of being Southern. Many of these qualities, like common courtesy, are some of the things that are so refreshing about the South compared to New York. It’s not that people aren’t nice in the North; they just don’t care to be.

“But the flag will never be an acceptable symbol, neither to Northerners, civil rights activists, or African-Americans. Sure, the flag no longer means the enforcement of slavery to most of the Southerners that associate with it, but some things will never change to those on the outside who view it.”

A house in Easton flies the American and Confederate flags. (Photo by Claire Bolden)

A house in Easton flies the American and Confederate flags.
(Photo by Claire Bolden)

And I guess that’s why I find it uneasy to see in plain view, in the daylight, outside someones’s home …

FYI, Jason concludes: “After the Holocaust, there was a movement in America to change the Swastika, once an aboriginal symbol of peace, back into its original meaning. The symbol, it was claimed, was once a good symbol and could be used for good again. The movement died when it became apparent that the world would forever associate Swastika’s with the Nazis, never again with anything to do with peace.

“The Confederate flag, unfortunately, falls into the same category. You can try to change its meaning, but outsiders will always view it as a sign of hatred and bigotry.

“This has real consequences, most notably in the Southern-dominated sport of NASCAR. Blacks have been trying to be a part of the sport for years, but with symbols like the Confederate flag still prevalent at many NASCAR races, it has been hard to stay focused. Why would anyone want to be a part of a system that encourages a racist flag to be flown at its events?”

Jason finishes by stating: “The Confederate flag has to go. There are many good qualities about the South, but there are other ways to glorify them than just this one. Its meaning has not and will not change: even if Southerners consider it to be just a symbol, it is still entrenched in racism.”

I often use Urban Dictionary for fun, inane or generally amusingly inappropriate definitions of words, but this time, I think they’ve almost got it spot on: “The Confederate Flag: a flag that’s usually flown in the South, most of the time flown to represent southern pride and heritage, but sometimes is flown to represent white power and racism.”

And that’s why it’s so open to interpretation …


About the author

Claire Bolden

Claire Bolden McGill is a British expat who lived in Maryland for three years and moved back to the UK in August 2015. Claire wrote about her life as a British expat on the East Coast and now works in travel and hospitality PR in the UK. She still finds time to blog about her repatriation and the reverse culture shock that ensued - and she still hasn't finished that novel, but she's working on it. You can contact Claire via twitter on @clairebmcgill or via her blog From America to England. Contact the author.