Steal This Flag 

A radical solution to the Confederate battle flag controversy.

Let's begin by repeating all the known quantities and by doing so in the simplest of all possible terms. The Civil War isn't over. It lives on in the hearts and minds of Southerners whose ancestors gave their lives fighting for the "Stars and Bars" and everything for which it currently stands: a fiction, an idealized past imbued with the kind of passionate Gone With the Wind romanticism that is ever the legacy of failed causes.

The African-American community, whose first significant taste of citizenship came not with the Emancipation Proclamation but rather the civil rights movement of the 1960s, is likewise still fighting the Battle of Bull Run. To them the Confederate flag also represents heritage, but a heritage of hardship, oppression, and slavery; a heritage that no amount of equal- opportunity legislation can temper or erase. The issue has been compounded by the number of hateful, often violent, white supremacist groups who have taken up the Rebel banner and effectively branded it as their own.

The battle lines around the flag have been drawn -- hate versus heritage -- with one side fighting to keep the flag, the other attempting to ban it. Oddly enough, at least in this writer's opinion, the opposing sides on this hot-button issue are both actually working against the fulfillment of their agendas. But there is a solution which will weed out the hatemongers and either allow the Confederate flag to continue flying proudly with general public approval or cause it to fall into the dustbin of irrelevant (yes) pop culture.

The problem is that no one who is taking part in this conflict seems to understand the nature of language and symbols. The opposing sides are fighting like a family over a disputed inheritance, with deeply divisive and ultimately negative results. To understand a symbol one has to know that once it has been brought into the world it takes on certain physical, almost Newtonian, properties that are not entirely unlike those ascribed to matter and energy. Language -- of which symbols like flags and insignia are an important subset -- has both weight and mass. It can even, in a certain sense, create its own gravity. Consider how drawn we are, as a culture, to buzzwords, catchphrases, and the like, and you will see that this theory is not so far- fetched. Notice how we "rally round the flag" like little patriotic satellites. Much like matter and energy, such symbols cannot be destroyed, but the terms of their meaning and relevance can be changed.

Placing a ban on the public display of the Confederate flag creates a common cause for its supporters, whether they be on the hate-group or the heritage-minded side of the fence. If you ban the flag, suddenly the two disparate support groups are no longer so very disparate; they are on the same team. History has proven that few actions can galvanize a group to action more than the legal suppression of a beloved symbol. If the flag is banned from public display its influence will be amplified and its general use limited to those who seek to energize their racist causes. Any misty-eyed nostalgia associated with the flag will be changed to vital, contemporary concern. Such is the nature of symbols. Note the history of the swastika -- an image which is banned in Germany -- and its continued use by neo-Nazis around the globe.

So if we don't ban the Confederate flag, how then should we deal with the issue? The solution is simple really, though it will require the cooperation of the African-American community. They must stop protesting the flag and let it wave freely. But this is just the beginning; step two requires a bit more chutzpah. African-American role models -- athletes, musicians, politicians, ministers, and corporate leaders -- must begin the transformation of the flag's image by absorbing it into their culture. Imagine Spike Lee at a Knicks game sporting a warmup suit proudly emblazoned with the Rebel flag. Imagine O.D.B. with it tattooed on his chest. Imagine the African- American community taking the flag's fundamental meaning -- that of rebellion -- and with it creating an all-out fashion revolt against small-mindedness and hate.

In the '80s and '90s, many gays began calling themselves "queer," thereby turning a formerly derogatory label into an empowering brand. They began sporting the word on T-shirts with the whimsical image of a $3 bill. An even more potent statement could be made by incorporating the Confederate flag into black iconography. Those white supporters who now cling to the banner out of a sense of heritage rather than hate should have no problem with this, since their beloved emblem will no longer be an inert reminder of past defeat but rather a vital, relevant symbol for defiance and progress. It will again be what it once was, a glorious rallying point for Americans who feel unduly oppressed. Once the flag has been captured and fully incorporated into black culture to the point of ubiquity it will naturally be relinquished by the hate groups who want nothing to do with the signs and symbols of their enemies. Besides opposing forces can't ride into battle sporting the same flag, now can they?

Let's fix this problem once and for all. Steal this flag.

You can e-mail (and we know you will) Chris Davis at

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