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.
  • ukhousewifeusa

    Found this on the BBC website today A bit like my article, don’t you think?!

  • usafveteran

    It was the British flag that imported slaves to the British colonies and it was on ships flying the Union Jack that took slaves from Africa to all parts of their colonies. We don’t need anyone with that legacy telling us that our Southern heritage is one of “hate” and “racism”. Just because we in the US were not as “progressive” as the Brits in regards to race relations, the guilt is equally on the hands of the British, the French, the Dutch, the Spanish and the Danish whose ships transported slaves to their colonies. What hypocrisy! At least the Confederate flag never flew on a slave ship! Moreover, we don’t need outsiders telling us what our symbols mean. The brave men who died for the flag defined the flag with their blood!

    • ukhousewifeusa

      Come now, I’m not telling you that. Read the article – I am saying that I want to understand the flag more, its history and origin, and what it means to sections of society today. I declared my ignorance about it, having not been exposed to it before, and am on a journey of understanding. I am fully aware of the British history and how savage it was – not one to always be proud of. Everyone’s view on the flag is valid and adds more layers to its identity. I am fascinated by American history, and come not to judge, but to find rationale and reasoning. Peace, man.

    • ukhousewifeusa

      PS. I resent the phrase ‘we don’t need outsiders telling us what our symbols mean’. I’m not ‘telling’ you. Goodness me, chill dude. I’m your friend, not your enemy.

  • David McCallister

    Clare Bolden quotes: “Jason [Pressburg] finishes by stating ‘the Confederate flag has to go'”.
    Wrong Jason, Wrong, Claire.
    The Confederate Flag needs to stay – and needs to be in even more places.
    When the Confederate flag becomes a frequent, familiar, and respected feature of the civic landscape, then it will cease to be a bogeyman misused by extemists of all kinds for their cynical, selfish agendas which they now promote by distortion, division, and hysterical Confederophobia.
    The NAACP adopted as national policy in 1991 that Confederate symbols were an “odious blight on the universe”. Odious means hateful. So, this is Hate Speech pure and simple – and the NAACP still uses this Hate Speech in its misinformation campaign trying to “Wave the Bloody Shirt”, to stir up discord among citizens of all races and sections.
    The NAACP has been joined in Virginia by the local Democratic party and into a Three-Headed Hydra-Monster of Hate. With these three against them, the Virginia Flaggers must be doing something right. Where’s the ACLU? We need a “Symbol Rights Movement” to set things straight.
    God Bless the Virginia Flaggers. God Bless the USA, Richmond, Virginia, and The South.

    • ukhousewifeusa

      I agree it has to stay since it is part of history. In the UK, the St George’s Cross is associated with the crusades, not a time in British history we should be particularly proud of. It also became a symbol of British fascism, but it has recently turned a corner and is seen as an acceptable flag to fly to promote British patriotism in a positive way. Peace out 🙂

  • old south

    I wonder why Yankess are so afraid of our battle flag are maybe they are more afraid
    of the people who fly it?

  • ukhousewifeusa

    Thanks guys, I feel I have been truly educated. 🙂 After all, real knowledge is knowing the extent of one’s ignorance. I love American history!

  • Billy Bearden

    God Bless Sir Winston Churchill!!!

    “The flags of the Confederate States of America were very important and a matter of great pride to those citizens living in the Confederacy. They are also a matter of great pride for their descendants as part of their heritage and history.”
    Winston Churchill

  • Billy Bearden

    More for the British readers here:

    “The Union government liberates the enemy’s slaves as it would the enemy’s cattle, simply to weaken them in the conflict. The principle is not that a human being cannot justly own another, but that he cannot own him unless he is loyal to the United States.”
    London Spectator in reference to the Emancipation Proclamation

    “The Northern onslaught upon slavery was no more than a piece of specious humbug designed to conceal its desire for economic control of the Southern states.”
    Charles Dickens, 1862

  • Billy Bearden

    And to our British readers, I offer the following:

    “[T]he contest is really for empire on the side of the North, and for independence on that of the South, and in this respect we recognize an exact analogy between the North and the Government of George III, and the South and the Thirteen Revolted Provinces. These opinions…are the general opinions of the English nation.”
    London Times, November 7, 1861

  • Billy Bearden

    “The flap over the Confederate flag is not quite as simple as the nation’s race experts make it. They want us to believe the flag is a symbol of racism. Yes, racists have used the Confederate flag, but racists have also used the Bible and the U.S. flag. Should we get rid of the Bible and lower the U.S. flag? Black civil rights activists and their white liberal supporters who’re attacking the Confederate flag have committed a deep, despicable dishonor to our patriotic black ancestors who marched, fought and died to protect their homeland from what they saw as Northern aggression.”

    — Walter E. Williams, Professor at George Mason University, and a nationally syndicated columnist.

  • Billy Bearden

    “The Confederate flag is not a symbol of racism … the flag does not offend me personally. I grew up in the South – in Texas. That flag doesn’t represent anything other than regional pride. It’s a time in our history that we just can’t erase.”

    — Laura Bush, former First Lady of the United States

    • ukhousewifeusa

      Thanks, that’s really interesting to get more insights. It’s a fascinating exploration of symbolism 🙂

  • Billy Bearden

    “The flag that was the symbol of slavery on the high seas for a long time was not the Confederate battle flag; it was sadly the Stars and Stripes.”

    –Alan Keyes, Ph.D, Harvard
    Author, former United Nations Amasador and Assistant Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan

  • PappyYokum

    For me, the Confederate battle flag is a reminder that the North went to war to force a government on people who did not want it; The South seceded based on the principle that government derives its powers based on the consent of the governed and that consent can be withdrawn as well as given. The battle flag represents resistance to government imposed by force rather than established by consent. I think Northerners resent seeing the battle flag because it reminds them Southerners are not really interested in being like them, and they object to that. The righteousness of forcing the Southerner to submit to superior Yankee rule is an idea fed to them in their baby formula.

  • Great_Timbini

    Nice insights about that flag. For many it’s their symbol of defiance so they hang on to that reason as much as any other.