The Confederate flag and the war on Christmas
Digby had a couple of interesting posts up over the weekend about the ugly, racist reaction to Obama’s win. The first was a piece about a couple in Arkansas that owns a hotel and has run up the Confederate flag where they used to have the American flag to protest the election of a black President. Of course, they deny that their intentions are racist—it’s not that he’s black, he’s a bunch of dog whistles and code words to indicate that he’s black. There’s a difference, you know. He’s infected with The Socialism, which they probably think manifests itself by darkening your pigmentation. (Why not? As Digby points out, these people don’t really grasp what “socialism” means in any realistic way. It’s a provocative word that means whatever the person spitting it out wants it to mean, making it a perfect code word for racist slurs that they can’t use in public anymore.) To prove this point, Digby reminds everyone that similar terms were used precisely as a polished racial slurs by none other than Jesse Helms when he was giving his reasons for opposing the MLK holiday.
Asked before television cameras to say whether he considered King a “Marxist-Leninist,” as he had suggested earlier on the Senate floor, Helms at first demurred, then said, “But the old saying–if it has webbed feet, if it has feathers and it quacks, it’s a you-know-what.” Asked again later if he considered King a Marxist, Helms said, “I don’t think there is any question about that.”
Being cute about it is one of those wingnut traits that probably grates on me the most. Dancing around your racism and winking at the world you think agrees with you isn’t cute or funny. Really, it’s just another strategy for wingnuts to convince themselves they’re an oppressed minority. The Resistance has to speak in code language, wouldn’t you know? But they’re not, really—this Arkansas couple and Helms aren’t actually trying to hide their opinions from you. They’re trying to make it very clear what they think without coming right out and saying it, because if they did that, they couldn’t play the victim.
Anyway, a reader of Digby’s wrote a great email explaining that to white Southern racists and their allies who hang the Confederate flag in non-Confederate states, the flag has always represented Christian values, honor, freedom, hating commies, puppies and kittens. As someone who lives in one of the Confederate states, I can also attest to the fact that some morons still call it The Rebel Flag, as if it’s some symbol of a strike for justice and freedom, instead of the reality, that it was a strike against freedom for enslaved people.* The reason that puppies and kittens have been attached to the Confederate flag is for the same reason that homobigots have to paint their opposition to gay marriage as “protecting traditional marriage” and their ancestors who protested interracial marriage claimed that god separated the races for a reason—because no one wants to admit they’re a straight-up bigot. It’s always something else.
However, what this does to bigots is that it aligns whiteness with honor, freedom, and perhaps puppies and kittens, and so they get into this mindset where they begin to really believe that black people can’t own puppies or kittens. But more to the point, it also means that bigots are stuck in this loop where they can’t even imagine that Obama is not a communist, because in their binary system that’s like saying water isn’t wet.
What’s changed for the hardened bigots is that their winking and nudging belief that they’re speaking for “real” Americans has just been dealt a serious blow. If they’re really the majority, then no way could Obama have won, full stop. All this silly discussion about how America is a “center-right” country that’s aimed precisely at reducing the impact of this historic election isn’t going to be much comfort to the wingnutteria. They’re not really part of that kind of discussion—it’s all about race and the mythical atheists (as opposed to the real ones who don’t have horns and tails) and taking away your guns and being forced to marry someone of your own sex and abortion doctors knocking at your door to tell you that your mother changed her mind 40 years after the fact. It’s a fantasy world, in other words, and it was just introduced to some serious reality.
One thing that was interesting about the letter I want to highlight in light of the upcoming “War On Christmas” panic is this:
In addition to white supremacy and foaming at the mouth anti-communism, the reactionary forces of the south were also dyed-in-the-wool anti-semites…..
Oh, and another particular aspect of that old southern bigotry was that the term “Christian” excluded Catholics, who could not be trusted because of their fealty and obedience to Rome, a foreign, and thus suspect, influence. It was quite a feat of cognitive dissonance to lump Jews and Catholics in with the godless Communists, as the right wing in Europe had only managed to lump together the first two as the common subject of their conspiracy theories.
Obviously, the Republican leadership is trying to replace “Jews” with “atheists” as the major threat, but I’m not so certain that the workaday and aging wingnutteria distinguishes too well between the two. There’s been a genuine effort to eradicate antisemitism from the wingnut pantheon of prejudice, and I think it’s for genuinely cynical reasons, which is to get the racist, weak-minded base behind Israel. You know, instead of rejecting antisemitism because it’s wrong. But dragging up the fake “War On Christmas” every year doesn’t, I suspect, do much for the cause of shutting down antisemitism, because it’s so rooted in hostility towards a Jewish population that doesn’t celebrate Christmas. In general, you see an attempt to take old antisemitic stereotypes and just slide “atheists” into the slot where “Jews” used to be. For instance, now it’s the “atheist” ACLU. But if you’re willing to boil your computer and use Google to do a little searching, you’ll see some wingnuts are still holding out for the old labels.
The weirdest part of this whole thing is that while the wingnuts changed the “War On Christmas” villain from Jews to atheists, they didn’t really update any aspects of the panic so they made more sense. It’s not just that a lot of atheists still celebrate Christmas, since most American atheists are still rooted in that cultural heritage. Really, for an atheist from a Christian background, the question is “Christmas or no Christmas?”, not “Christmas or a generic ‘holidays’?” I fail to see how the panic over the term “Happy Holidays” makes sense unless you’re angry at minority religions that have different winter holidays, the biggest one being Hanukkah. (True, everyone celebrates New Year’s Eve, but getting mad because people roll up that holiday in with the others also doesn’t make sense.) All this is just something to keep in mind as we go forward, that the vein of antisemitism hasn’t been pried from racism, homophobia, sexism, and red panicking as easily as some on the right would like to believe.
*While Texas schools have mostly gotten away from the old-fashioned Southern way of teaching this history by claiming that the North were the aggressors and Southerners were innocent babes, they haven’t, as far as I know, rectified the tradition of glossing over the fact that the Texas war of independence was a practice run for the Confederacy. Yep, Texas declared independence because Mexico outlawed slavery. And won the war in fairly short order, no less, so no wonder the Confederate states thought it would be easy-peasy to do that. But considering that one of the Confederate states had already gone through this process, the claim that Southerners thought they could leave peacefully is a joke.