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Symbols

June 3, 2010

I haven’t been around much lately, because I’ve been skating on the edge of burnout. Which I’ve been meaning to do a post about, but haven’t had the energy to write either.😉

One topic came to mind again today, reading an OT thread on CurlTalk: Our jury must be racially pure, in which the idea of “lots of Confederate flags displayed == lots of open racists” came up again. I had to think again of different uses I’ve seen of the Confederate flag symbol.

As I touched on in the Kentucky Turtle Man video post, when I see a Confederate flag or someone identifying with the Confederacy, I don’t automatically think “flaming racist display”. AFAICT, a lot of people where I’m from use the symbol differently.

This really struck me when I was back home a couple of years ago, and drove by a house flying the Confederate flag under the US flag–and couldn’t help but think that the people who lived there would probably be appalled at some of the ways that could be interpreted. Both by white supremacist assholes, and by people who have been hurt by them. While I didn’t know those people personally, I didn’t think they were trying to send the same kind of messages with their flag display.

This struck me on the same trip as when I put together how the decals on a lot of people’s vehicles are serving the same social functions that tattoos used to. That popped into mind looking at one guy’s pickup truck, with clear bass and deer outline decals on the windows, along with the near-obligatory Whitetail Outfitters one (i.e., “I enjoy bow hunting for deer”). The animal decals could have been blackwork tattoo designs. Yes, this is also somewhat relevant.

In a lot of cases, I strongly suspect that this symbol as used in Southwest Virginia is more acceptable code for the kind of sentiments expressed in one book title from Chickasaw Press: Chickasaw: Unconquered and Unconquerable. (Haven’t read that one yet, but I absolutely love the cover*!) Over a lot of the time period since the Civil War, that has probably looked like a fairly safe symbol, kind of the part standing for the whole philosophically.

BTW, some of the big reasons a lot of Souteastern Natives did side with the Confederacy are rooted in ideals of noninterference, rather than any urge to own other people. It had to do with sovereignty. Some of the other people involved may have been openly racist asshats, but at least they were talking in the direction of sovereignty and self-determination. (Yeah, far more complicated situation than usually presented.) This is apparently also a reason some nations got treated so extra-badly afterward, being on the losing side and all.

That is what I suspect a lot of people in the region are associating with the symbol: resistance and self-determination, possibly also ironically resisting cultural assimilation (while using a rather assimilative code symbol, not always knowing by now exactly why). It may not be my cup of tea, but I don’t think most of them have any bad intentions there, nor are using it as shorthand for “I want to control other people”. Rather the opposite.

In the thread that prompted me to write this, someone else made a similar observation:

and as far as the confedrate flag is concerned, ive discovered that it has a different connotation for some people down here. they can fly the confedrate flag just as a means to express their pride in living in the south. i had no idea that so many people were so ignorant to what that flag means to others.

It does show some privilege, not having to think about how other people might interpret this. Even if, say, some of your ancestors were Cherokee who fought with the Confederacy.

Of course, I think it’s wrongheaded. I’m not big on flag-waving in general, and I would not use this symbol at all these days. Very much like the Indo-European version of the swastika was twisted and ruined in the West** by some assholes, to the point that not many people will use old Native North American swastika motifs anymore. I’m very aware of some of the things some other people use the same symbol to convey, and really don’t want to be associated with them. Much less understandably upset others who have been hurt by people using it hatefully. Whether or not that’s your intention, it still hurts people.

I also get the idea that incorporation of the Confederate flag into some state flags probably has a lot more to do with stubbornness and one-upsmanship than with wanting to show what giant racist jerks the people doing it were. Not that some of them weren’t probably, mind you. (Sort of like Indian mascot supporters, actually.) The people continuing to support this should be aware of how it’s continuing to hurt other people–and making themselves and their states look really, really bad in the process.😐

_____________

* Featuring real Chickasaw people who “don’t look very Indian” according to stereotypes. (Bit of a hairpiece or hair dye/straightener fail in light of the last post, though. Unless, of course, the “usually blatantly unnatural scalp lock == stereotypically Indian hair” thing is a joke.) And, incidentally, a fake tattoo which probably started out a swastika instead of a sunwheel, looking at similar Mississippian designs. I also like the dignity.

** OTOH, I recently got a bar of Swastik Shikakai Hair Soap from Spices of India (photo from their site). As important as the symbol is in Hinduism (and, to some extent, Buddhism), I’m glad it hasn’t been totally ruined there.

Photo of the front label on the bar of soap, with a Hindu swastika as part of the Swastik brand logo

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