by Myles Kantor
Seven Georgia middle school students received a one-day suspension last week. What was their crime? Their t-shirts had a Confederate battle flag on it. (Punitive action for similar wickedness has been taken in North Carolina, Kentucky, and Virginia.)
Constitutionally protected freedom of speech comes into play here, but more significant is the anthropological effect of this censorship.
The appropriateness of Confederate symbols in official positions can inspire honest differences among like-minded individuals. Many decentralists might consider the Confederate Battle Flag on a state pole to be a symbol of self-determination and liberty; other anti-statists might object to state-sponsored symbols of any kind; others might object to official endorsement of Confederate symbols because of the Confederacy's own statist policies. (See Emory M. Thomas's The Confederacy as a Revolutionary Experience and Jeffrey Rogers Hummel's "Republican Neo-Mercantilism versus Confederate War Socialism," in Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War.)
Private endorsement of Confederate symbols, however, is beyond political purview. Placing a bust of A.P. Hill (an anti-slavery Confederate general) on one's desk or wearing a pro-Confederate garment aggresses against no one and is a classic exercise of property rights. (And yes, that means moral morons should be able to wear t-shirts reading "Te Amo, Fidel" or "Mao 4 Eva!" Start running roughshod over imbeciles' property rights and you'll soon find your house nationalized.)
When the State and its agents proscribe personal affirmation of the Confederacy or whatever happens to be history non grata that month, the result is the erasure of the private sphere and an offensive against cultural tradition.
History is a repetitive creature, and what's happening in Georgia and elsewhere is far from new. We may construe it as a less potent variation on England's ethnocidal campaign against Ireland.
After Oliver Cromwell's dispossession and slaughter in Ireland during the mid-1600s, England began passing the Penal Laws in 1695 under William of Orange. These enactments converted the "barbarous wretches" and "devil papists" (Cromwell's descriptions of Irish Catholics) into a colonial caste: deprived of religious liberty, disarmed, disenfranchised, land-ownership gutted.
The Penal Laws were an imperial attempt to abolish Irish identity. While that resilient population maintains its rich heritage, England's hegemonic barrage did much to undermine Ireland's Gaelic tradition, with aftershocks still quite present.
Suspending the Georgia students for wearing an "I Love Alice Walker" or "Viva la Raza!" t-shirt would be inconceivable in our P.C. age that's more deferential to radicalism than white college students at a Free Mumia rally. Isolating sartorial support of the Confederacy for penalty is permissible discrimination, though. Eugene Genovese observes in The Southern Tradition: The Achievement and Limitations of an American Conservatism:
To speak positively about any part of th[e] southern tradition is to invite charges of being a racist and an apologist for slavery and segregation. We are witnessing a cultural and political atrocity an increasingly successful campaign by the media and an academic elite to strip young white southerners, and arguably black southerners as well, of their heritage, and, therefore, their identity. They are being taught to forget their forebears or to remember them with shame.
These words appeared in 1994. In 2001, Dixie's self-flagellation comes at the suppression of expressive freedom and legitimate historical pride.
If Ireland had to contend with cultural imperialism from a foreign force, the South's greatest adversaries are within its own borders. It is not a Yankee juggernaut that today assails the South but a scalawag-contingent. Confederacy-appreciating Southerners would do well to execute their localist creed and concentrate on a much-needed cleaning of these Augean stables.
Myles Kantor lives in Boynton Beach, Florida.