Heritage, Hate, or Halfway? Confederate Symbolism

Rebel flag shop

In election years such as this one the U.S. often seems incredibly divided, where those in opposing political parties refuse to compromise on a single issue. But, as the case is with most democratic countries with access to information, the united states has never been as ideally united as its namesake. Even before the states claimed independence in 1776, colonists of different classes, ethnicities, and educational backgrounds maintained political differences as heated and controversial as those today, if not more so. All one has to do is examine the several drafts of the Articles of Confederation and eventually the Constitution to catch a glimpse at how even the brightest American leaders felt very differently about governmental power, slavery, states’ rights, civil rights, and more.

The American Civil War of 1861 was a violent culmination of those deep rooted tensions amongst Americans. And while the war ended with the preservation of the union and dissolution of the confederacy, today there are still plenty of confederate and rebel flag items waving about the U.S., purchased at confederate clothing stores and elsewhere.

Confederate Clothing Stores and Controversies

As visual creatures we care a lot about symbols. When we see an American flag, we probably envision patriotic acts of heroism and bravery along with some imagery involving baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie. The cross and Star of David invoke sacred and religious feelings in many. The stars and bars of the confederate flag symbolize quite a bit as well, though exactly what those things are is a point of contention among many.

For many Americans, particularly those born in the North, the confederate flag has been taught to be a symbol of American slavery that ended under the presidency of Abraham Lincoln after the emancipation proclamation. After all, the confederacy was founded by secessionists who wished to leave the United States in order to maintain their sovereignty and right to own slaves. The southern economy at the time was primarily agricultural, meaning no longer having slaves would essentially destroy the entire southern infrastructure.

Since the majority of American slaves were taken from Africa where the native population is black, the confederate flag has since taken on the stench of racism and bigotry as well. But for many Americans born in the South, they grew up with a different perspective on the Civil War, the confederacy and its intentions.

For one, the Civil War is dubbed The War of Northern Aggression by some, and many southern schools taught this version of the war. The narrative in this version is that the federal powers of the United States were overreaching by telling states whether or not they could legally allow for slavery (among other things). Slavery was the most important aspect of this since, again, the South’s economy was largely based on slave plantation labor. But the main motivation of the confederacy in this interpretation was merely to remain free and self-sufficient, and rebel against an overbearing federal government much in the way the colonists rebelled against Great Britain a century before.

As a result of this complicated history, the confederate flag symbolizes something different depending on one’s upbringing, political views, and understanding of history. In July of 2015 when South Carolina was debating on whether or not to remove the confederate flag from statehouse grounds, the “Heritage not Hate” movement grew, a movement claiming the confederate flag symbolizes the history southern bravery and resolve, not slavery and bigotry.

Regardless of what one thinks of the confederate flag, there’s not denying its symbol has also become somewhat of a brand, used to sell merchandise to those who want to express their rebellious natures or southern love. There are dedicated confederate clothing stores online that sell all kinds of confederate stuff from rebel flag license plates to dukes of hazzard memorabilia. There are also many people who oppose and protest these confederate clothing stores, claiming the products are a form of hate speech. For now, these shops have the right to sell this merchandise, and people can buy it freely, though this might change in the future considering the symbol is offensive to many, especially those closest to the history of slavery intertwined with the confederacy.