On the heels of the Confederate flag controversy in South Carolina, another dispute over a flag is raging in North Carolina.
Kings Mountain resident John Brown has been flying a Nazi flag from his front porch. But, under pressure from his community, he has agreed to take it down in a couple of days, WCNC reported.
For years, the neighborhood asked John Brown to take down the flag, but Brown refused, saying that he didn’t consider it offensive. He claimed that he wasn’t a racist, and that he hated the Nazis.
“It is a Nazi SS flag,” Brown said when WCNC originally reported the story three years ago. “[But] it stands for lightning bolts!” Furthermore, he argued, “It’s in the Bible.”
Like the Confederate flag, the Nazi flag represents a horrific time in history and the height of oppression for minority races. So can there be any legitimacy to Brown’s claim? When is a flag just a flag?
I say, hardly ever. The Confederate flag and the Nazi flag both carry histories of enforcing white supremacy, and any forward-thinking society should not fly either of them.
Of course, not everybody thinks this way.
Although the Nazi flag is pretty much universally condemned, the Confederate flag escaped this same stigma. This, despite the fact that the Nazis officially persecuted European Jewry for years, while the Southern Confederates and their ancestors enslaved African slaves for centuries.
Both kidnapped minorities, forced them to toil under horrific conditions, and worked them to death or killed them outright.
Yet, many still defend the Southern flag at the same time that they acknowledge that the Nazi flag represents one of the darkest times in history.
Historic revisionists claim that the Civil War was primarily about states’ rights, not slavery. The North strangled Southern trade, and the South fought for economic freedom. But what some still refuse to acknowledge is that the main reason for war was states’ rights to own slaves, and not some other ambiguous “states’ rights” agenda or whatever proponents of the Confederate flag tout today.
In contrast, it is much rarer to hear an opinion promoting the fact that the Nazis built Germany up from a terrible economic situation after World War I to become the most powerful country in Europe. Instead, people focus on the Nazis’ genocide — and rightly so.
So why don’t we see the Confederacy in the same way that we see the Nazis?
Mostly, it’s a result of historical revisionism and racism.
We’ve had time to rewrite Civil War history — Southerners even have a different name for it (the War of Northern Aggression) — whereas World War II happened in the last century. Witnesses are still alive today, and can share what they saw. Of course, racism in the South didn’t end with the Civil War — many Americans today can recall living under Jim Crow segregationist laws, which persisted into the mid-1960s. But, unlike in Germany, where there’s been a government-spearheaded effort to name the past’s mistakes, many in the South still haven’t quite come to terms with their history and its legacy.
Even more important is Americans’ broader reluctance to acknowledge how the history of racism continues to shape the country today. #BlackLivesMatter and the Baltimore riots all drew fuel from the fact that Blacks have gotten sick of being overlooked by the media, by history textbooks, and by their neighbors. America was built on a racist system — the genocide of one race (Native Americans) and the enslavement of another (Blacks) — but no history teacher will explain it that way.
And that’s why we still fly Confederate flags in Southern capitals and visit the Holocaust Museum in the capital.