The Magical Thinking at the Core of the Confederate Flag Hysteria

Kurz & Allison

Historical prints depicting Civil War battles are among the  merchandise currently being removed by Amazon.

That’s right, I’m calling it hysteria — this zealous, self-congratulatory crusade to abolish all representations of the Confederate battle flag, from the Dukes of Hazzard reruns nixed by TV Land, to the books and historical artwork currently being removed from the Amazon catalog. The mass killing in Charleston has reaffirmed the Stars and Bars as an icon of militant white supremacy, and now society is taking a stand:

No longer will we tolerate that which reminds us of the divisions in our society. Our ongoing history of institutional racism will no longer be quite as apparent in department store inventory as it once was. We will browse eBay for iPhone cases without fear of being reminded of just how much racial bigotry is still entrenched in our culture.

We will lead a purely symbolic charge against violence and racism, even if it means empowering the very symbol that we seek to abolish. Hillbillies throughout the country will wake up to discover that their T-shirts and bumper stickers have suddenly become much more offensive to arugula-eating liberals than they were a month ago, and they’ll gleefully wave their beloved Stars and Bars in defiance of our campaign against it. It will become a more powerful symbol than it has ever been — but we’ll only have to look at it on our way to Walmart, not inside.

And if Billy Bob wants to buy himself a pair of “Dixie Will Rise Again” mud flaps, he’ll have to travel across town to his local Southern Pride Emporium, which is suddenly thriving in the absence of competition from the major retailers. Aboriginal peoples have had to fight for legislation to protect their traditional arts and crafts from appropriation by non-native enterprises. Now, racist hillbillies can enjoy the same economic protections when it comes to their “heritage.”

Racism, like homelessness, like your lingering weight problem, goes away when you refuse to look at it — or so we seem to believe. We feel helpless, watching our society come apart at the seams, and taking down the flags makes us feel like we’re doing something — but we’re only driving the problem under the surface. Pre-existing efforts to remove the Confederate battle flag from statehouses and other public spaces are just and worthy causes, but this foolhardy crusade to abolish it from our entire culture is pathological on a scale that Lady Macbeth would admire — out, damned flag! Out, I say!

It’s magical thinking to imagine that we can heal the fractures in our society simply by making them harder to see. However hard we believe, closing our eyes won’t make the monsters go away.