Flags de­pict a false im­age

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - I n sacra­mento

Imag­ine the out­rage if they started f ly­ing the Mex­i­can f lag at Cal­i­for­nia’s state Capi­tol.

They wouldn’t, but you could just hear the ra­tio­nal­iza­tion: It’s about pride of her­itage, cul­ture and an­ces­try.

You know, the same stuff that many south­ern­ers say about why they f ly the Con­fed­er­ate f lag.

The Mex­i­can f lag, af­ter all, f lew over Cal­i­for­nia from 1822 to 1846. Mexico ruled us for a gen­er­a­tion af­ter it gained in­de­pen­dence from Spain and un­til white set­tlers mounted their Bear Flag Re­volt. That re­volt is sym­bol­ized to­day in Cal­i­for­nia’s state f lag.

But many f lags have f lown over Cal­i­for­nia. May- be we should raise them at the Capi­tol, too, for old times’ sake. There were Span­ish em­pire f lags. And even the Rus­sian f lag on the north coast, f ly­ing over Fort Ross from 1812 to 1841.

All this came to mind as I lis­tened to south­ern politi­cians — now fewer and fewer, thank­fully — de­fend f ly­ing the Con­fed­er­ate f lag or hy­brid ver­sions at state Capi­tols, court­houses and other gov­ern­ment ed­i­fices.

The same f lag that ap­par­ently inspired the 21year- old white su­prem­a­cist Dy­lann Roof — based on his

many photos with it — to al­legedly gun down nine African Amer­i­cans in a black Charleston, S. C., church.

And how about most of those Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, ini­tially weak- kneed and duck­ing, scared they’d ran­kle white south­ern vot­ers by say­ing some­thing dis­parag­ing about the old rebel f lags?

Ku­dos to South Carolina Gov. Nikki Ha­ley, who showed more courage and smarts than most of her party’s pres­i­den­tial con­tenders com­bined when she quickly f lip- f lopped and ad­vo­cated haul­ing down the Con­fed­er­ate bat­tle f lag on state­house grounds.

Elected of­fi­cials in other states — Alabama, Mis­sis­sippi, Vir­ginia, Ten­nessee — have since fol­lowed her by tak­ing steps to re­move f lags and other ves­tiges of the Con­fed­er­acy.

It has al­ways stumped me just what pride these f lags con­jure up in peo­ple. To many of us, they’re sym­bols of slav­ery, trea­son and racism.

What’s to be proud of? En­slav­ing peo­ple, start­ing a Civil War that killed 600,000 Amer­i­cans, Jim Crow seg­re­ga­tion? The KKK and lynch­ing?

Yes, ci­vil­ity and chivalry were noble, but for gen­er­a­tions that was only for white peo­ple. Fried chicken, grits and rhubarb pie? Sure, great. But they don’t call for a f lag.

Ad­mit­tedly, as a na­tive Cal­i­for­nian, I’m not fully ap­pre­cia­tive of Dixie cul­ture. But both my par­ents mi­grated here from the South and de­scended from long lines of south­ern­ers. My great- great- grand­fa­ther Skel­ton, from the Ten­nessee hill coun­try, died fight­ing for the Con­fed­er­acy.

I called my cousin James Lee, who still farms near Carthage, Tenn. — for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Al Gore’s old con­gres­sional dis­trict — to ask what I was miss­ing about the f lag.

“It doesn’t mean any­thing to me one way or the other,” he said. “I wasn’t there when the war hap­pened. The av­er­age per­son here can take it or leave it. Most peo­ple think [ the con­tro­versy] is pretty id­i­otic.”

He added this ob­ser­va­tion, prob­a­bly think­ing of our an­ces­tor: “A lot of those south­ern boys who went to war had never been away from home more than 10 miles. It wasn’t about slav­ery. They were pro­tect­ing their homes. They didn’t want Yan­kees com­ing down and burn­ing their houses and rap­ing their women. You know how it is in war.”

At any rate, Con­fed­er­ate f lags don’t sym­bol­ize most of to­day’s South. They’re de­pict­ing a false im­age. To do the re­gion jus­tice, they should be low­ered, folded and packed away in mu­se­ums or clos­ets.

Cal­i­for­nia, of course, can’t be too smug. We haven’t al­ways been a bea­con of tol­er­ance.

This state once had a long, hor­ri­ble history of anti- Asian dis­crim­i­na­tion. Ja­panese im­mi­grants were barred from own­ing prop­erty. Chi­nese immigration was pro­hib­ited, pe­riod.

A half- cen­tury ago, Cali- for­ni­ans voted over­whelm­ingly to con­tinue racial dis­crim­i­na­tion in the sale and rental of hous­ing. Ron­ald Rea­gan, that GOP icon, strongly sup­ported the no­tion. Both the state and U. S. Supreme Courts ruled it un­con­sti­tu­tional.

Last year, the mother of state Sen. Isadore Hall ( D- Comp­ton) vis­ited the Capi­tol and was shocked to see Con­fed­er­ate f lags be­ing sold in the gift shop.

An African Amer­i­can, she grew up in then- seg­re­gated Texas. Hall’s fa­ther was a light- skinned African Amer­i­can — a Cre­ole — who was raised in Louisiana and f led the state af­ter be­ing nearly beaten to death for dat­ing a black girl.

“They thought he was white and didn’t al­low white peo­ple to date black peo­ple,” Hall says. “This is Amer­ica, and you can date who­ever you want to date.”

In­censed that “em­blems in­cit­ing racism” were be­ing sold in Cal­i­for­nia’s Capi­tol, Hall in­tro­duced a bill to ban it. The mea­sure passed over­whelm­ingly — only three Repub­li­cans voted “no” — and was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

“There’s no place for a Con­fed­er­ate f lag in any public build­ing in Cal­i­for­nia,” Hall says. “Same with a swastika. It in­cites ha­tred and fear. We were never part of the Con­fed­er­acy.”

In fact, the South tried to ex­tend slav­ery to South­ern Cal­i­for­nia as a con­di­tion of state­hood. But at a state con­sti­tu­tional con­ven­tion in 1849, del­e­gates voted unan­i­mously to out­law slav­ery. And Cal­i­for­nia was ad­mit­ted to the union as a free state in 1850.

At the time, South­ern Cal­i­for­nia was heav­ily Latino.

To­day, it would make as much sense to f ly the Mex­i­can f lag at the Cal­i­for­nia Capi­tol as it does to dis­play the Con­fed­er­ate ban­ner at south­ern state­houses: no sense.

Joe Raedle Getty I mages

SOUTH CAROLINA Gov. Nikki Ha­ley has ad­vo­cated haul­ing down the Con­fed­er­ate bat­tle f lag on state­house grounds. Above, the f lag at the state’s Capi­tol a day af­ter her an­nounce­ment.

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