Frances Stead Sellers writes of Confederate pride and prejudice (“Some white Northerners see a flag rooted in racism as a symbol of patriotism”):
Ashort walk from where President-elect Abraham Lincoln made the last train stop in his home state before leaving for Washington on the verge of the Civil War, a Confederate battle flag flies from a home garage.
The property belongs to former mayor Greg Cler, who runs a car repair shop in this central Illinois village of 3,500 people. Cler isn’t from the South. He grew up about five miles away, in Pesotum, where his father, like most others in the region, farmed corn and soy. But Cler has long felt an attachment to the flag.
“Part of it is an act of rebellion,” he said.
The other part is tied to the national turmoil surrounding race and identity. Cler sees the flag as a fitting symbol of white people’s shared grievances, which, he says, have new resonance today.
Cler’s rebellion is like the rebellion of someone sitting in his own filth: it’s a challenge to cleanliness, of course, but that’s not a challenge worth joining.
One can see flags like this in rural Wisconsin, (sadly) occasionally even in a beautiful place like Whitewater, as banners, bumper stickers, or decals. There’s an easy response, grounded in history, to their display: that flag is a symbol of racism, oppression, and treason.
There’s another response, relevant to our time, however: Confederate symbols are emblems of socio-economic failure. Whites displaying these banners are found only in low-productivity areas. Confederate displays are first displays of bigotry and injustice, but they’re also a present-day equivalent of a sign reading: UNCOMPETITIVE & PROUD OF IT.
There’s no more reliable roadside marker of an approaching backwater than the Stars and Bars flying in someone’s yard.
A civilized, productive place will always demand more of itself.