Regionalism

From the very beginning the conflict over the Confederate flag and that which it symbolizes (or those meanings that are attached to it) has been a regional one, an emblem of the ongoing sectional rivalry. White Southerners see the flag as a symbol of their distinctive and proud Old South culture. Since the days prior to the Civil War Southerners have retained ideas that the South is a unique, leisured, hospitable and genteel place, very different and separate from the society of the North. Perhaps the Old South that many Southerners long for and constantly believe is disappearing never really existed. Many Southerners now will deny that slavery even had anything to do with the cause of the Civil War. As the authors of All Over the Map, a new book on regionalism, suggest, one of the common characteristics of regional identity is that it is usually conceived of in a past that never was. The North, for example, may conceive of itself as "beautiful pastoral New England" when really the pastoral communities of that area that exist today were artificially created in a postbellum attempt to attract tourism. (At the top right is a Northern cartoon depicting the burning of Gone With the Wind, the hallmark Old South culture.)

To many white Southerners there is no image so sacred and meaningful as the Confederate flag, a symbol of sacred memorial to the bravery of their ancestors. However, many other Southerners see the flag simply as symbol of "vague resistence" (Ayers 79). The flag to these Southerners is "a sign of resistance to the boss, to Southern yuppies, to the North, to blacks, to liberals, to any kind of political correctness," saying "LEAVE ME THE HELL ALONE!" (Ayers 79). For example, Southern Rock bands such as Black Oak Arkansas, with their rowdy, defiant, "good ol' boy," "don't tread on me," attitude embody this sense of resistence. Black Oak appeals to those who feel that the priveleged, white Southern heritage is passing away and wish to keep it and their unique sense of identity alive at all costs. One good way of keeping that ambiguous identity alive is through the use of an equally ambiguous symbol, the Confederate flag.

Northerners, on the other hand, often use the flag as a way of wiping their hands from their own complicity with slavery. Very few Northerners would have favored going to war simply to end slavery in the South. The North associated the South with being backward, slow, and a general weight to the progress of the Nation. Slavery, Northerners thought impeded the progress of a society. Many of these ideas about the South still persist, even without slavery, and the persistence of the Confederate flag in the South serves as a reminder to Northerners of that backwardness. Most Northerners now associate the flag with the base racism of the South, although they too are guilty of the same crime as stated before. To use another example from popular music, take Neal Young's song "Southern Man," in which Mr. Young warns Southerners to consult their Bible and reform their evil ways of racism. Young casts the guilt of racism wholly on the South with the characteristically forgetful historical memory associated with regionalism. (At the left is a cartoon showing the Northern perception of postbellum white supremacy in the South.)