Why teacher was right to report Confederate flag to police
- Credit: Emily Robinson
No matter how you individually interpret it, the Confederate battle flag is a symbol of hate, white supremacy and institutional racism.
Recently, teacher Emily Robinson reported a home in Norwich to the police for flying the flag in commemoration of a Confederacy General, sparking intense debate about whether she was right to take offence at what others considered a harmless act.
While I’d like to think if I saw such a flag flying in a neighbour’s garden I would approach them, explain its divisive history and politely ask them to remove it before calling the police, I support Ms Robinson in opting straight for the latter.
When she reported the Bracondale residents’ flag-flying as a hate crime, she was not being oversensitive, as many readers have suggested. If that’s the case, we should question why anyone reports something they perceive to be a crime to the police, and subsequently their local newspaper.
Neither should her decision be written off as “woke virtue signalling”. If anything, putting your name to an article likely to cause such a stir in Norfolk, a largely conservative rural county, is incredibly bold – unlike those who’ve chosen to berate her behind internet pseudonyms.
The historical context of the flag is well-documented. It is the battle flag of the Confederacy – the states professing secession from the United States of America after Abraham Lincoln won the November 1860 presidential election on an anti-slavery platform.
For the southern states, emancipation threatened to destroy their slave-reliant cotton plantation economy. It was this conflict of interests that led to the American Civil War.
Victory for the North saw slavery abolished in 1865. Nevertheless, the legacy of slavery and its dehumanisation of black people persists in the racism and discrimination that we see today. The Confederate Flag is a common sight in America’s more conservative states, whether flown in support of President Donald Trump, or as a statement of opposition to Black Lives Matter.
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As a symbol of the ambitions and intentions of those historically pro-slavery territories, this particular incarnation of the Confederate Flag continues to cause offence, pain and suffering among black people today.
For many in Norfolk, the flag’s historical associations might seem irrelevant, or easy to overlook. But wherever they might live, for the victims of racism the flag’s connotations of hatred and bigotry cannot be ignored.
Were we talking about a swastika on that flag, few would doubt its inappropriateness – whether or not they had a direct connection to the genocide perpetuated by the Nazis against Jews and other minority groups.
The Confederate Flag should be viewed with similar disgust: it too is an icon of racial hatred, used by white people to subjugate non-white people. There’s no excuse for flying it in ignorance.
On this occasion, the fliers of the flag did so “harmlessly” in memory of the death of General Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson in 1863. That might be how others saw it too, but their interpretation isn’t definitive, and doesn’t override its other connotations.
But isn’t this “wokeness”? Am I not just one of many people “too easily offended”?
Though today we brand “woke” as an insult, what the word in fact describes is those who are alert to injustice in society, and who appreciate the complex history behind our modern symbols. This is nothing new. The progressive ideals that “wokeness” strives for are as old as those it fights against.
It is only through the rejection of offensive language and symbols in the past – be it the swastika, the n-word, or catcalls towards women – that such things are no longer socially acceptable today.
In the case of the Confederate Flag, victims of racism will bear the brunt. But they aren’t the only ones who can call out such symbols as offensive. It’s the preserve of everyone who cares about equality and wants to root out hatred, including Ms Robinson.