Views On Confederate Flag's Symbolism Still Mixed

| by Will Hagle

When Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people in a Charleston church last month, one of his main motivations was to ignite a race war in the U.S. Thankfully, the killer’s radicalized views have not inspired the negative action he hoped they would. Black churches have been burning throughout the South and white supremacist groups like the KKK have re-emerged in public, but Roof’s senseless violence has mostly been met with backlash. After images of him posing with the Confederate flag surfaced online, politicians, companies and citizens alike have been calling for the flag’s removal nationwide.

Roof, of course, didn’t single-handedly bring down the Confederate flag. The movement to take it down at South Carolina’s Capitol and elsewhere throughout the country was inspired by of a combination of heightened racial tension, increased instances of targeted violence, and social media-driven activism. If the country can’t agree on how to best deal with our complicated gun laws and horrific culture of mass shootings, at least we can agree that the Confederate flag has always been a symbol of the persistent racism that plagues the U.S. (and especially our Southern states).

According to a new CNN/ORC poll, however, much of the nation is still conflicted as to whether or not the Confederate Flag is a symbol of Southern pride or a symbol of racism. The use of the word 'mixed' in this article's headline is intentional: the poll found that 57 percent of Americans overall view the flag as a symbol of Southern pride, while 72 percent of African-Americans view it as a symbol of racism. Only 25 percent of white respondents overall described the flag as a symbol of racism. Only 11 percent of African-Americans from the South described it as a symbol of Southern pride. The responses were clearly split along a racial divide. CNN also emphasized the educational and age differences among respondents: African-Americans under the age of 54 are more likely to support removing Confederate flags from government property, and white respondents with more formal education are less likely to claim that the flag is a symbol of Southern pride.

Despite the public outcry for the removal of the Confederate flag on social networks and in the traditional media, this poll shows that opinion on the matter is more or less split down the middle. That’s the more likely representation of reality — the Confederate flag has been flying throughout the South since the Civil War; people’s opinions don’t change overnight. The push to remove the flag, however, demonstrates that many citizens (especially young African-Americans) are unsettled by its presence in the South and elsewhere throughout the U.S. It may be seen as a source of Southern pride, but the South that it reminds people of is a South that was fighting for slavery. Especially in these turbulent times for race relations, it just doesn’t belong in the U.S. at all. Taking the flag away, of course, won’t solve the problem either. Perhaps this poll also helps show how the debate over the flag’s symbolism is more nuanced than what the activists calling for it to either stay or be removed make it seem. 

Sources: The Washington Post, CNN, BBC

Image Source: Business Insider