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Rebel FlagI’m launching into this editorial with no small measure of hesitation - but here we go.  Two recent events got me thinking about the message inherent in the Confederate flag.  The first event was an American Legion custom motorcycle show.  At the show, I was struck by an African-American Vietnam veteran who stood studying a chopper that was heavily adorned with images of the flag of the Confederacy.

The other event was a motorcycle poker run that was staged to benefit a local public pool that has fallen victim to the economy.  I truly believe everyone there was altruistic in their support of a great cause.  However, several jacket patches and bandanas and a rather large sissy-bar-mounted flag at the fund-raiser again got me thinking:  Is the Confederate flag a symbol of Southern pride or a symbol of racial oppression?

As an English teacher and a writer, I am a fan of symbolism.  I love a well-crafted literary symbol.  In fact, I have been accused by my students of reading too much into the second layer of meaning that symbols afford.  Regardless, I am acutely aware of the power of a symbol.

I have lived all of my years in the Southwest – not the Deep South.  Still, in my decidedly rural neck of the woods, choppers, trucks and clothing often sport the Confederate flag.

The Confederate flag also seems to be an ingrained component of much of the chopper and custom bike culture.  Stylized Confederate flags are airbrushed onto body-work and helmets, and the rebel X is laser-cut into billet aluminum.  There are a number of custom bike builders who have the Confederate theme at their core – even using variations of the term as their company name.

Regional pride is a part of what makes America great.  An intense love of New England, chest swelling pride of the Lone Star State, or an abiding love of the Pacific Coast are all good things.  This is also true of deep Southern pride.  I guess the question is – when a symbol of that pride is also a symbol of repression to another part of our society, is it still acceptable?

I said that I penned this editorial with trepidation.  The last thing that I want is to write a piece that sparks mindless racism or equally mindless criticism of the people of any region.  That being said, I’d like to hear from our readers as to whether symbols like the flag of the Confederacy are appropriate in this day and age.  What are your thoughts?

(Photo Credit: Life Magazine)

Courtesy of AllAboutBikes.com

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4 Comments on this post

  1. I was born on a marine base in north carolina. Therefore, the rebel flag to me is HERITAGE not HATE!!! People need to let go of the 18th century and look at the world now. Blacks, whites, whatever….we all live in the same world, do the same things. NO DIFFERENCE!! I love the rebel flag, live up north but i will ALWAYS have pride in the south!!

    Lana / Reply
  2. Being born in the mid-60′s, I was pretty young at the time a lot of race related things were happening in this country. Living my life in Ohio and Kentucky, I can honestly say, I have never thought of anything besides the South, Rebels and Rednecks when I see the Confederate flag. It doesn’t bother me that it flown, displayed or portrayed. I do not relate it to oppression or racism. This country is “just a little bit” too sensitive and politically correct. I am more bothered by the foreign flags that are flown in this country by immigrants who have moved here.

    Sambal Badjak / Reply
  3. Considering the ambiguity of the topic, your apprehension is understandable. I have spent all my life in the Mid West as a first generation Asian-American, and although it is not the Deep South, its history is marred with racial unpleasantness (e.g., Tulsa Race Riot and lynchings). I first saw the Confederate flag when I was 10-years-old. My father took me out fishing in rural country and an old Ford angrily roared past; its tires hurling tiny pebbles and rocks at us. Through the maelstrom of debris, I took note of a flag that was foreign to me, the Confederate flag. My father, who was not afforded the advantages of a proper education, said he only knew it as ‘that flag the Duke boys have on their Charger,’ when asked.

    The flag began to pop up more–on skin, on more vehicles, in grade-school texts and extensively in my Political Science studies. It personally makes no difference to me what someone believes in and how they choose to convey it–so long as it does not harm or prevent others from doing the same.

    There are still small towns in my state that hang the Confederate flag proudly, despite the ambivalence that it exudes. For many, the flag represents the resistance of Southern culture to conform, and when you throw in motorcycles (rebellion on two-wheels) into the equation, it amplifies the mutiny. I personally feel it is an unsightly vestige, but my morals and sensibilities are in tact despite its existence. Nonetheless, there are those who are unable to reconcile its symbolism and the hard times their kin endured under it. I feel as though it is inappropriate, but unfortunately there is no concise definition of how to practice freedom and so long as this vagueness exists, the Duke boys will continue honking their Dixie horn.

    Hank / Reply

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