Ta-Nehisi Coates has a good post up on those who defend their desire to fly the Confederate flag as an affirmation of heritage and not an open expression of hate:
It may well be true that Alabama’s desire to fly the Confederate flag at the state capitol, or the desire of many Alabamans to use it themselves as they see fit, has nothing to do with the fact that the state was the last to drop its (unenforceable) prohibition against interracial marriage (in 2000!). It may be a mere coincidence that the only people to oppose the Alabama repeal were leaders of the states’ “Confederate heritage group.” But if the flag’s defenders aren’t racist (which I can accept) the necessary conclusion, while banal and common, isn’t anymore comforting–a shocking ignorance of one’s own history.
As someone who grew up around Confederate flags and the white folks who love them (Southern by the grace of God, as they say), I can attest to this: most of these kids (and their parents) are scarcely aware of their history. They have romanticized their Confederate ancestors as noble defenders of independence, and while that’s in some sense understandable (no one likes to think poorly of their ancestors), it does ignore the fact that the Confederacy was explicitly founded on a theology of divinely-ordained white supremacy.
What’s more, even the “heritage” defense betrays a deep ignorance of history; although the Confederate flag (in various incarnations) was flown throughout Reconstruction and into the 20th century, the Confederate flag as we recognize it (the “stars and bars) didn’t come into popular use until the 1950s and the beginning of federally-mandated desegregation, where it was used primarily to signal opposition to desegregation. Insofar that it was supposed to represent Southern “heritage,” it was a sign that the flyer respected the long-standing Southern tradition of apartheid and racial violence. As historian John Hoski explains in his book on the subject, this was a pretty explicit sentiment:
Roy V. Harris, the recently retired speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives and editor of the Augusta Courier, minced no words in linking the threat to his embrace of the Confederate flag in 1951. ”The Confederate flag is coming to mean something to everybody now. It means the southern cause. It means the heart throbs of the people of the South. It is becoming to be [sic] the symbol of the white race and the cause of white people. The Confederate flag means segregation.”
Honestly, I’d be a lot more comfortable with people who flew the Confederate flag if stopped they simply acknowledged that the flag represents apartheid and white supremacy; it’s not a pleasant history, but it’s history, and Confederate flag-loving white Southerners ought to accept that.